Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vague is OK

Since I'm writing this post on Sunday I can't report on our Cripple Creek anniversary getaway. Yet. I know Hubster is looking forward to riding the narrow-gauge train. And thanks to Autumn for covering things yesterday.

Back to my non-plotting. One of my crit partners is aghast that I don't nail more specific details before I write.

For my WIP, I am more or less locked into another plot point. The heroine's husband's abuse escalated big time after his father died. Again, that's in my May 2011 release, so I can't change it. (Of course, that's being optimistic that this WIP will see publication, but I have to write it as if it will.) About the only other things we know about the husband is that he's very possessive, and social status is number one on his priority list.

Thus, I needed a good reason to explain why everything went south after the father died. My reasoning said it was because the father was involved in something shady, and somehow, the heroine's husband was now involved.

My questions: Why would he let himself be dragged in, especially since his father was dead? Given his established character, it might be something that if he doesn't do it, his standing in the community will plummet. A chat with Detective Hussey (if you're new here and don't know who he is, he's a very real homicide detective, and that's his real name--scroll through the archives for "Homicide Hussey" posts) assured me this was a reasonable motivation.

I still need to know more before I decide exactly what the husband is tied up in, but since he's rarely on the page, it hasn't hit the fan yet. One of the techniques that help keep things vague is careful attention to using the right POV character, and the circumstances of the scene. Here's where we first meet the husband/villain. He's not identified as such, but it's clear from context who he is.

Pacing his office, he ran through his options, which weren't many. He couldn't go to the police. He couldn't use his normal investigators. He needed someone not connected to the firm, to him, or to anything that could come back to him. Someone whose discretion was impeccable. Someone who would keep his mouth shut if the money was right. Because he knew this one would carry a hefty price tag.

And a bit later, he's meeting an investigator in the bar. The scene ends right as the investigator is asking for all the details of the case. But I end the scene in Victor's thoughts—BEFORE he answers.

What had he gotten himself into? He had visions of people named Guido and Rizzo showing up at his house. Late at night. With baseball bats. Or worse.

Damn that bitch. And damn his old man for dying and dumping this mess in his lap.

Or when our heroine is alone and worried about what she's taken:

She thought about the shoeboxes tucked under the spare tire in the trunk of her car. Should she mention them to Grace? She would know how to handle it. But the last thing Elizabeth needed was to set off red flags. Red skyrockets, more likely.

Or this, which bugged one of my crit partners because I still hadn't revealed the contents of the boxes:

Locking the bedroom door behind her, she went to the box labeled "Bathroom Supplies" in the bathroom vanity cabinet. Heart thumping, she opened the box. The rolls of toilet paper and box of tampons seemed undisturbed. She lifted them out, relieved when it was clear the shoeboxes were still there.

Should she take everything to the bank at once? Making frequent trips might make people at the bank curious. But what if they didn't have any boxes to rent? She didn't want to be walking around carrying this stuff.

It comes down to, "how would the character think about things?" I write in deep POV. Long ago, I faced the question of how a character would think about his father. While I've seen some writers use the father's first name, it doesn't ring true for me, because the character most likely thinks of his parents by whatever name he called them. So, in his thoughts, it would be "Pops", not "Angus."

So if my heroine already knows what's in the shoeboxes, would she be thinking about the specific contents? Maybe she will in rewrites, as soon as I know what's in them! But for now, I think you can write 'vague' and embellish later.

Don't let your writing come to a standstill if you can work around it. Get it on the page. Fix it later.


Terry Stonecrop said...

Good advice to work around it if you get stuck. I tend to stall. Then I finally go on. I like the idea of vague:)

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, TerryS. Yes, stalling can be counterproductive, because not only are you not moving forward, you're taking the chance that you're losing the connection with the work. I always have to get a running start by revisiting the previous day's work. If it's been a week since I've been with the characters, it's harder to get back into the story.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice Terry. I'm more like Terry (Stonecrop - that sounded funny!) - but I'm learning to go around into of waiting!

Terry Odell said...

Jemi--then consider my response to TerryS as yours too!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Good advice, Terry! We can't fix it if we haven't written it. I just throw it on the page, warts and all and worry about the mess later. :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - I know plotters are cringing, but yes--you don't have to know all the details and can write around a lot, then fill it in later.

Jud said...

A few ideas for the husband's motivation:

* Husband gets involved in major business deal on the assumption that he'll receive a major inheritance on the death of his father. Father dies leaving little or no money. Husband faces bankrutpcy, default, disgrace.
* Father's will leaves significant sum to hitherto unknown illegitimate son/daughter. Said offspring turns up and begins to manipulate husband financially or psychologically.
* Among father's effects is a bundle of old letters, one of which reveals a dark secret.

All devices that have been used time and again, but I like the letter-from-the-past as it mirrors my own experience.

* When my father died we found some love letters written after he was married and I was born. Beautifully written and extremely moving, but my mother tore them up in a fit of anger. Alas, gone forever.
* In the days when my family ran a restaurant, we received a letter addressed to a waiter who had long since quit. The return address was a high-security prison and the sender's name, when I saw it, made me gasp. It belonged to a notorious serial murderer who had killed several dozen runaway boys and was serving a life sentence.

Can't help you with the shoebox dilemma as I'm not sure how it fits in the story.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Jud - fascinating story, and some good ideas. I used something similar in another manuscript, but it's not published ... yet.