The Prompt – Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I haven’t considered this. I write what I write.
But- I have a tome sitting on my hard drive that is five seasons of Netflix costume drama. It started life as a coming of age story about a head cheerleader who quits and wants to be a feminist, longs to meet one guy who’s not all hands and bullshit. And a wannabe musician who wants a girlfriend that’s “different.” Throw in a couple of lesbian fairy godmothers, a wise black saxophonist, a no-nonsense guitarist, a superjock big brother and a couple of 70s gender role confused get outta my way (in their own ways) mothers and…Well, it went on forever. Two were plenty. But I got a lot of mileage out of the last three.
Intentional Repeaters – I have several short story characters that repeat. Lamar is looking for the meaning of life in a lighthearted way. Jackson and Deanna, I rip one of their endless chapters of exploits (from those last three books) and turn them into shorts. Can’t just leave fun sidebar character interactions hanging out there.
Bobby B. Bobby allows me to assail all the stereotypes of a series character without becoming one himself. I consider Bobby’s stuff to be my paean to Elmore Leonard/Hitchock/Twain and all other caper storytellers. In a post-Katrina junkyard Bobby sees a top for a tractor, without the tractor, puts it on a swamp boat, meets a boat salesman, and a black lady manufacturing expert who understands automatic weapons and Swamp Vue is born. Bobby wants to learn the custom car business, goes to Hollywood, winds up running across the country with a college-educated bikini model, getting shot at by a phony handicapped pimp and a crazy topless dancer, the FBI in hot pursuit…Bobby sees a big box van with an air conditioner on top and before long, half the politicians, reporters and bad guys in Louisiana are after him and a third-generation Mississippi Madam for her client book. Plus it has parallel storylines and all the stuff a series needs. Bobby would be my series.
Loners – The first-person thing I’m in the middle of as an experiment will be my last. I like the characters, but it’s a one-shot. In fact, if I’m honest, it’s a writing exercise. To see if I could write something I liked, formatted loosely on something I read that was too full of research and filler but otherwise likable.
Here’s my real issue – I don’t need the hero’s epic journey or classic motivation that gets lost in facts and figures or even the old pulp trouble, more trouble, skin of the teeth escape within given parameters. Like me, a lot of my characters have no idea what’s going to happen next. They show up, something happens, next thing you know they’re on the river with Huck and Jim and dressin’ up in women’s clothes.
Point – Now, let’s talk about what bucking that story arc, blah-blah-blah set decoration, infamous Dan A and all the what’s his/her motivation show don’t tell except when you’re skipping the plot holes does to editors and scam artists posing as editors and grammar Nazis.
“Well, with things like this, slice of life, where is it going, what does he want? He says, but… ” No, they both get their asses kicked all summer long, did you not see the train wreck coming?
Seriously? I forget how Tom Sawyer and Becky got lost in the cave, but I remember they did and it was a big scene. Did Tom start out the day with “I’m gonna get lost in the cave with Becky today and cause a real commotion”? I doubt it. So when Bobby doesn’t say “Think I’ll take off with two million dollars and raise some hell” it doesn’t change or default his motivation none. He says he wants to get a “people” education. He damn sure does.
I went to college for a while. Did the concept of stream of consciousness and/or modified postmodernism drop off the curriculum in favor of formulaic spreadsheet bullshit? If so, how did Barbara Park sell so hundreds of millions of Junie B books?
I get the whole conflict/resolution thing but that’s so overdone without something special, some spice, some people in it. Since the 50s life’s messy little problems have been being solved on television, neatly, in 30 minutes to an hour by understanding parents or quickdraw sheriffs or clever detectives. Enough of that procedural stuff, enough predictable formula arc, enough is three too many red herrings. I want to turn the page to see what happens next to the people. What they get into, what they learn, how they feel, what weirdos they’ll run into next.
To whit. We’ve become so formulaic, so programmed… I watched a Hallmark mystery yesterday (post-surgical pain meds make a lot of things tolerable) that paralleled a recent book review of Stevie’s. Overprotective Mom. The son was cardboard, the menacing gold digger wasn’t menacing or a gold digger just happened to be a potential girlfriend… pretty bland stuff. Everybody had million-dollar teeth, though, and it dripped with stereotypes, half of whom couldn’t even act at that level. But it’s on the air. Somebody like Michelle Frances wrote it and it was pitiful. Except for the teeth. Go Hollywood Society of Cosmetic Dentistry!
Question – When do we quit listening to “Well, it’s not the formula…” and just throw it out there, series or one-shots? I don’t feel I write well enough to say, well, here, read this, will ya? It’s not the same kettle of fish, but…
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