Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Last Place I Looked

by Hannah

This morning the house was in an uproar. My son lost his hermit crab, a tree crab with a metallic green shell that wandered away yesterday as my son played guitar, and that he forgot (which is rare) once it was out of sight. We ripped the house apart this morning at six, when he should have been catching his last bits of sleep and I exercising; at least for some reason he remembered.

When my daughter came down, she asked where we'd looked. Everywhere, we said, starting with the dining room where it was last seen, with the two farthest rooms the least searched: my son's bedroom and the office. She disappeared down the hall and a minute later said, "Found him!" "Where?" "In the paper towel tube on the bedroom desk that says Krabby's Tube." Which, of course, is where the crab really was left; luckily the critter didn't get it in his little head to venture past it.

This relates to fiction how, you ask? Well, like this:

When a story isn't working, the most frustrating thing is to find out where that element went. After all, everything was in your head at some point, wasn't it? What didn't make it out? You check in with all the characters, you re-examine setting, you add stakes, you firm up the voice. Still, not quite.

Then one day you find out that you didn't really look everywhere, or perhaps not as carefully as you thought you did. I, for example, needed to up the stakes after the last round of reading, which as I've said before, was fine with me. The challenge was to add more and yet wrap it all tighter. I knew what I wanted to add, but hadn't known before how to weave it in more fully, and thus had left it out.

One of my characters finally whopped me upside the head. Not my main character, mind you, who has been trying to present himself as sympathetic despite a raffish streak. No, a relative of his gave me a Look and said, "Don't you know him well enough by now? He's a game player. Think hard on that, dear." Funny how in a book in part about games, I'd worked it out on one level, then two, but what it really needed was yet another, third level of interplay.

She was right, of course. (Funny, because she is the character I trust the most within the story.) My main man had been less than forthcoming, as had another character, in fact. And after examining that last dark spot more carefully, I pulled out pieces that fit together and fit into the whole of the story. So next time I find myself with a dilemma like this, I'll know better. You rarely have to go outside and bring in new things. The need is to recheck, carefully, all the corners. Don't skip even the most obvious places, the ones labelled with big block letters in Sharpie marker: Krabby's Tube. Game Players. The last place you look is, of course, always right in front of you to start.


Carleen Brice said...

Totally agree. Someone once told me that we leave ourselves clues in our drafts. Glad your character helped you find what you were looking for!

Lisa said...

Something similar happened to me just the other day, but I didn't have the distance or the objectivity to really understand it. This post clarified the whole thing and now gives me something concrete to remember. Great post.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

It's funny -- and frustrating -- to be so certain you've got it all in hand and not see something that really is right there. Any thoughts on how to gather all details earlier in the process? Perhaps it simply comes with experience?


Sustenance Scout said...

I think being aware that the subconscious drops those clues is a huge step. Gathering them into an ongoing list would be great, too, for the ultra-organized writer! Had to laugh at the hermit crab story, Hannah! :) K.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks, Karen! It's the second time we've chased around after one of these guys, and you can imagine, it's quite a scene. They love dark holes and move faster than you'd think. Despite the fact that they remind me a bit of tarantulas of the sea with all those legs and heavy centers, I do recommend them as pets if you're not quite ready for mammals!


Lisa Marnell said...

You said: "recheck, carefully, all the corners,"

I find I'm at a spot when I need to sit down and read the first half of my WIP before pushing to the finish. What have a started that must be finished? What needs to surface earlier on?

Those threads, you know, those threads have to tie at the end.

Great post!

See you soon!

Larramie said...

Sounds as though Lisa's coming back east for the holidays or is that too obvious? ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I am running out of patience - is it with myself or my WIP- and this tells me another way to look at things.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

You're welcome! Would be great if I had an answer on how to know when to stop looking, but so far, all I've learned is to keep looking. And don't totally trust the main character -- listen to them all. And yes, Lisa heads East today to see family up and down this half of the continent and is saving Saturday night for us! Yeah!!!

mohanley5 said...


This is a great post. I have had similar experiences, and after reading my work for, say, the thousandth time, I practically slap my forhead and think, I WROTE this...How could I have missed it? It is a breakthrough that is so rewarding, when you can finally mesh everything together, and make your story more compelling along the way.

I can sense a real surge of confidence in your WIP from this post. Best wishes !

janerhealey said...

Hi Hannah,

Great post - so true! My name's Jane and I've become a frequent reader of The Writer's Group blog. I'm working on a YA historical novel - my first. I really appreciate your posts because I'm going through some of the same issues as you.

I'm so happy I found this site through Grub Street - it's fantastic!



Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Mo. I do think this is it. Really. (!) And Jane, so glad you found us -- and since you did through Grub Street, will you be at the Muse and the Marketplace? Come find us there!


janerhealey said...

Hi Hannah,

Yes, I do plan on being at the Muse and the Marketplace this year. I'll definitely look you up there!

Best -


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