Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ripping Off Hamlet

So, work is going slow on BURIED.

At first I thought this would be an easy one, a finished manuscript that needed little more than a quick polish an off to the Beta readers. It's a tidy wee thriller about a young woman who returns to her hometown and starts asking questions about her brother's death. Think Walking Tall meets Pink's song Trouble.

Naturally, there was one small problem. A little thing, no more than a dangling thread at the edge of a garment, really.

The story read too fast. Not 'wow I finished it in a single night' fast, but 'who are these people and why are they doing this stuff' fast. In my haste to keep the action moving, I had neglected my sequels.

So I sat down every morning with my feathery quill, ruffled shirt and candle-drippy skull (so I'd know I was a *real* writer, see) and go through my manuscript. Correct a typo here, tighten some language there. And yes, broadening out those sequels so those characters could explain their who's and where's and why's...

That dangling thread metaphor a couple of paragraphs back? I bet you can see where I'm going this.

Yup. As I filled in the bits I had glossed over, that thread pulled further and further. I was writing about messed up families, about the ties that bind us to our pasts and histories, about the strange relationships between mothers and daughters. I had two mentor characters, one a hero who has to choose between her heart and doing the right thing, the other a black-hearted villain who did it all for love. And my poor protagonist, sucked into all these plots and feuds and jealousies and betrayals by the loss of a brother she barely knew, her last family.

Once I started pulling those threads, I felt like the biggest asshole to ever stare moodily from a garret window. Glossing over good meaty stuff like that should be criminal.

And of course, it wasn't long before the entire hem of my garment had dissolved. Stepping gently away from an overworked metaphor, my old ending no longer worked.

It was tidy. It was fun. It littered the bodies all over the stage.

But my old ending didn't do justice to these characters and what they were going through.

So, once more into the breach and all that. And this morning it hit me: the REAL central conflict of my story...

My heroine really was fine being a black sheep. She liked it. But family does hold its ties and obligations over us. Going home was the last thing she wanted to do, but it was what she had to do. And now that she's back, everyone wants her to further *their* agendas.

Basically, my story is one long Call to Action.

My earlier version had her answering that call at the Act I Climax, just like every other bloody Hero's Journey. Lot of good stories go that route, but it was making my heroine's choice seem shallow and facile.

But, who the hell writes about HALF the Hero's Journey? Okay, maybe the fiction team behind the Synoptic Gospels. (I mean, sure, maybe you could say Jesus answers the call before the start of that story, but I'd argue that he spends damn near every minute up until the Last Supper trying to find a less painful way to answer that call.) But those folks are NOT the writers to turn to for characterization...

Had this ever been done by anybody GOOD???

Oh yeah, Hamlet! That poor Emo's entire story is about the difficulty he has answering his call to action. If your dead father's ghost is crying murder and howling for vengeance, do you *really* need investigation and fake plays to figure out what you have to do? No. He knows from the start what he has to do, and what it will cost him.

And when he finally DOES take action, man do the bodies pile up quick!!!

This is gonna be fun..... :)


Angie said...

Hey, as long as it's rolling now -- and especially if you're having fun -- then it's all good, right? :)


Charles Gramlich said...

I got a little shudder at the puffy, frilly shirt, thing. Egads, man. You know we writers are "visualizers!"

Any story you can figure out how to write is a good one, no matter how long it takes.

Steve Malley said...

Well, Angie, yes. That special writer 'fun' we all know and love-- like the joy of running back-to-back marathons, or exhaustion-hunting a springbok until its heart gives out... ;p

Steve Malley said...

Sorry, Charles. In that case, I shall be sure not to mention naked old people smeared in chunks of watermelon!

Barbara Martin said...

Descriptive prose is what makes a writer. I rather liked the puffy, frilly shirt part. Things will come together, Steve.

Steve Malley said...

Thanks Barbara! Good to see you again-- it's been AGES :)

Marconi said...

Hey bro, just finished your book "Crossroad Blues", which is definitely a compliment because I rarely finish books! (I also enjoyed it more than Poison Door, which I also read.)

Are you familiar with Master Edit ( It will help you catch words or turns of phrase that are becoming repetitive. e.g. gloaming.

Crack on, brother, because it's good stuff!

Steve Malley said...

Hey Marconi,

Thanks for the kind words-- and I'll use that link! :)