Today I’ve been working with those new characters I mentioned earlier, Duff and Merrin. Before today all I had down was a bunch of narrative, notes really, no action, covering the backbone of the plot, characterization, and so on.
Pages filled with “telling” sentences such as, “He felt like he was smothering under the weight of the problems held in his sighs.” BLECH! I need to go back now and “show” him smothering under the weight of his problems, let the readers come to the conclusion on their own that he is smothering under the weight of his problems. I’ve got a plan, a list of quick actions I can pop through that should demonstrate just what has happened in this man’s life and the effect it has had upon him.
That part will be the beginning of the story I think. But it’s gotta be quick, just a couple of paragraphs of set-up before Merrin arrives at Duff’s door. It will be challenging no doubt. It will probably take quite a few sittings to get it down the way I want it. I will ponder every word and only the strongest will survive . . . and who am I kidding? Some of the strongest will get axed as well, because that’s what I do. But that’s all stuff for down the road, in the rewriting stage. It doesn’t really matter when I write that part. I can do it last if I want. The main thing is that I’ve laid out a road map, so I’ll know exactly what to do when the time comes. That done, I get to move onto the fun stuff and get right into the action.
So, that’s what I was doing today. I don’t know if everyone works this way or not (love to hear comments on this from others) but often times when I work on a new scene, especially with new characters, I’ll do the dialogue first. The dialogue and nothing but the dialogue. Later I might chop it all to hell, take six pages to a couple of lines, add in some he said/she said clues, or character/scene descriptions or actions or whatever I think it needs. But quite often I start with only the dialogue as the skeleton for a scene.
I think I find this helpful because in the beginning I don’t know my characters that well, and by hearing their voices they become more real for me. I get to know them better, burrow my way into their heads a bit more. It brings them into focus for me. So, I force them to talk. And that seems to work for me somehow.
Anyway, this whole story is coming about as the result of a few lines I scribbled into my notebook one day when this idea blindsided me. I had written:
“Excuse me,” Duff said. “But have we met? Do I know you?”
She giggled and stuffed a lollipop into her cheek.
“I’m the girl who’s gonna save your marriage,” she winked and flashed a wicked grin.
It doesn’t get any more simple than that, does it? Few little lines scribbled down and I’m off on an adventure. Today, I continued that scene using only dialogue. Thought it would fun to share a little bit of something hot off my fingertips from what I would call the pre-writing stage of this story, where I’m just exploring the characters voices and having fun. So, here it is:
“I’m the girl who’s gonna save your marriage.”
“What on earth . . . ”
“Now, don’t get your shorts in a knot, settle down. I heard about your marital dilemma and as it turns out I’m in a bit of a dilemma myself and need a place to crash. So I’m here to help you get your wife back in return for room and board for a few weeks just until I get back on my feet.”
“I don’t see how a strange woman moving in will help me get my wife back.”
“Ahh, but you see, that’s exactly the thing that will help. Gets ’em every time!”
“I really must protest —”
“Ok, ok, if you must know, Agnes sent me.”
“Yes, Agnes. Your mother.”
“But, but that’s impossible. Mother is dead.”
“Sheesh, she may be dead but she’s still got some kinda lungs on her I’ll say! Oh, the bellowing! How she goes on and on. Duff this and Duff that. Listen I don’t like this anymore than you do, but your mother wants me here and here is where I’m staying until she tells me otherwise.”
“I don’t understand. Who are you? How did you know my mother?”
“I didn’t know your mother, thank the Goddess. I bet she was some piece of work though. High maintenance with a capital H. She’s certainly no bouquet of roses on the other side that’s for sure. Always hollering, demanding this and that, you’d think she was the first soul ever to cross over. My name’s Merrin, by the way, pleased to meet you. How do you do?”
“Ohh, I get it. I think I understand now. Ms. Merrin, do you perhaps reside over at the Lilyfield House? Forget to take your medication, dear? Would you like me to call the doctor? An ambulance perhaps?”
“Christ Almighty! You’re not the brightest bulb on the tree, are you? I’m not crazy. I’m psychic. Have you not been listening to me? Your mother sent me to help you get that God-awful wife of yours back, though why anyone would want her is beyond me, not that it matters. I’m here to help and help I shall. Anything to give me a little peace.”
“Listen, it’s really quite simple. You want your wife back, I want my life back, and the only way we’re both going to get what we want is if I move in here with you for awhile and we pretend to be madly in love with each other.”
“That’s preposterous! Nobody will ever believe it! Janice will never believe I’ve fallen for someone . . . well, someone like you.”
“Watch it buster, you’re on thin ice. I admit I might not look like much right now, but I clean up real nice. They’ll believe it all right. If we make it believable.”