And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.
(Isaiah 30:21 KJV)
I have been working on a writing project called The Cereal Bowl series.
Today, I am taking us on a little detour to share about the process. It’s not that often that you get to hear what the author was thinking or doing in the midst of their writing process.
The series has lasted longer than I expected. I only planned to write the first episode. I was just playing around with the first sentence and the idea of how far that sentence could take me. Surprisingly, it took me to seven more posts.
What kept me interested was the main character, whose fictional name is Shirley Verne, which we all know is not really her name at all. But as the author, I have chosen not to reveal her real name.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a name for her, until one day I was thinking about her and wondered what her name was. A name did pop into my head, and I may or may not share it. I haven’t decided.
My aim in writing this story was to test the theory that characters propel the plot rather than the author making up a plot for the characters to enact. And to my delight the girl started “making choices” and giving me hints about her story, which I in turn crafted into words on the page. Her mother interests me. I am still trying to get a handle on her father, but he’s a bit shy or at least otherwise occupied. Most likely at the tavern drinking, but I don’t really know.
The story development kept me coming back for more, until I got scared. How would this story end? I started researching and trying different ideas of what might happen. And those details took my attention away from the main character and her point of view.
The beginning caught my attention, and I wanted more. The middle episodes were intriguing and left me wondering what would happen next. But the ending haunts me. What if it doesn’t work? What if the audience doesn’t like it? To overcome my fear, I just started writing and that’s how we got to episode 8.
I posted it, even though it wasn’t exactly right to me. It seemed clunky. It was still a nice story. But . . . I wasn’t happy with it. It seemed trite. And the mother took over the story. And her pushy neighbor, Ida Cochran did her share of bringing a halt to the momentum.
I have been brooding over this impasse for the past couple days. What’s next? Should I scrap episode 8, and rewrite it from the girl’s perspective? Most likely.
And then I read a text from my son this evening, quoted below. It was his own musing about good writing, not a response to my story. Yet this one thought clued me in to why my story wasn’t as compelling anymore.
Good conflict writing is about giving your characters a reason to make bad decisions. (Bradley Rohlf)
The girl wasn’t faced with a decision in episode 8. Her mother was making the decision for her. Good insight, and a rewrite will get the plot back on track.
But I have to confess, the not so good episode has some elements that I do appreciate. I like what I learned about the mother. I find Ida Cochran and the coffee klatch ladies intriguing. So maybe it’s not the next segment for this story, but the writing process opened up some potential new characters who might birth their own plots.
Good writing comes from skilled listening. And I have some more listening to do before I record the next episode of this story.