My Protagonist Would Like to Speak with Me

My protagonist, Richmal, walked into the room and sat down. She stared at me. I stared at my laptop.

“I’m pretty busy right now,” I said finally.

“Must be nice,” she said. “We’re just just hanging around waiting for you to fix the gaping plot hole you created during this revision.”

“I’m in negotiations with a new character.”

“That’s your solution? Creating a new character? Not sure that’s a great idea.”

“Since when do you know how to write a novel?”

She crossed her arms and looked at me over her glasses. “I’m a librarian. We can find out about anything.

I blinked. “Oh. Wow, that’s a great line.” I jotted it down on the orange sticky-note next to my laptop. Richmal looked slightly mollified, but she wasn’t deflected.

“We’re all desperately bored,” she said. “The villain’s been having long, deep conversations with the hero and is starting to get uncomfortable with his role in the story.”

“Too bad. He has to stick to his character arc on the page,” I said.

“And I heard a couple of the supporting characters talking about jumping stories over to The Raven’s Landing, taking up swordplay and questing.”

“That’s a bad idea. No character of mine has the qualifications for that genre.”

“Also, speaking of character arcs, are you sure about how I decide between the two love interests?”

“What do you mean, am I sure? I’ve been writing toward that decision since the first page!”

“Well, the three of us have discussed it a lot over wine and pizza…”

“Richmal,” I interrupted, “your job is to be the story, not write it.”

“I can’t be the story if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!” she snapped. “People always complain about protagonists who don’t move the story along. Well, how about authors who leave the story stagnating?”

I tightened my lips. “I leave y’all alone for a few weeks, and you fall into anarchy. Well, let me correct your misapprehensions. Nobody is stagnating anything. Allow me to introduce you to our plot-hole filler. Cecil will be happy to get the story going again.”

A man about seventy years old, with a leather coat, tall boots, and an aviator’s cap over his shoulder-length white hair, strode into the room. “Hullo, hullo!” he exclaimed. “Bit of a surprise for me to pop by, what? Glad to make your acquaintance, old girl!” He held out a gloved hand to Richmal.

She stared at him in astonishment. “Are you serious? Our genre is realistic fiction. This guy talks like a Wodehouse character.”

“Just a bit of an affectation on my part, don’t you know,” Cecil said affably.

“And he sounds like… an off-brand Cary Grant,” Richmal added.

“Oh, hey, that’s perfect!” I exclaimed, making another note on the orange paper. “Anyway, this is what we’re going with. Why don’t you two get acquainted? We’ll get this thing up and going again.”

Richmal got to her feet, still eyeing Cecil, and shook her head. “Sometimes I think you’re just making this up as you go along.”

I gave her a look over my own glasses. “Welcome,” I said, “to the world of a writer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to finish.”

(In related news, Draft #4 is finished. No villains filed complaints, no supporting characters defected to a new genre, and Richmal is satisfied with her romantic choices. Cecil seems to be fitting in fine. It is, I hope, ready to be bundled off to my editor.)

Revision in a Time of Quarantine

Nothing like rekindling your memories of your first great literary love just as a pandemic sweeps through the world.

To be honest, my daily life hasn’t change a whole lot even as everything is canceled and shut down. We already homeschool and we already prefer to stay home as much as we can. I’m used to shopping for a week or two at the time and feeding six people all day, every day. I’d also stocked up a bit because my mother told me to. DJ is working from home for a month, so that’s been a big change for him; but it turns out that my preferred lifestyle adapts pretty well to pandemic living.

While we continue with school and take long drives when the walls start closing in, I immersed myself yet again in that original Great Literary Work of mine.

An advantage of the revision of 2007 was that the story now had a plot. A disadvantage was that for some reason I decided to lower Ria’s age from 18 to 13, and I changed the tone of the story accordingly. It was not a happy choice. Re-reading it was, as my kids would say, massive cringe.

“Most of the time, she was just plain Ria. And this morning she was a very sulky Ria.”

“She didn’t intend to apologize to him, either, once she got her revenge.”

And to think she’d complained about being bored in her Castle. What a silly little princess she’d been!

Apparently in 2007 I was temporarily possessed by the spirit of an early 20th-century Sunday school teacher.

Earlier this month, I sat down to rewrite the terrible first chapters, and then send the rest to my sister. But once I got the first part in better shape, I couldn’t leave the rest of the tripe that Miss Flossie Jones of Millerville Baptist Church, circa 1902, communicated through me.

So for the past two weeks I’ve worked my way through the story, smoothing out the dialogue, creating better conflicts, and removing the saccharine moralization.

Since I returned Ria’s age to 18, I also reintroduced the romance that Flossie seemed very uncomfortable with. I suspect it was this aspect that made me decide to lower the age in the first place. I spent my teenage years in a real-life version of the Fellowship, so even at 30 I didn’t know quite how to handle romance in fiction.

The hardest part of the rewriting was Ria herself. She was a typical first-timer’s heroine. She had no real motivation, and she spent the whole story being propelled by other people’s decisions. She was also, as a writer friend of mine put it, “insufficiently hobbied.” What did Ria like to do in her spare time? The answer appeared to be “ride horses and complain about having nothing to do.” Ria’s sister, on the other hand, is always designing clever contraptions and figuring out how things work. She would have made a far better heroine. But this is The Ria Story, so I just had to try to work with what I had.

It was a lot of work… but so much fun. I stopped worrying about the unfixable worldbuilding problems and just let the story be what it is. Yesterday I finished it and emailed it to my sister. It’s not a great story, but I think I made it into a solidly “okay” story.

And now I’m at loose ends again.

Well, unless you count my actual serious novel. I’ve left Richmal and Co. cooling their heels in the third draft for nearly two months now. I’ve been stuck on a pretty thorny plot problem. Oh, hey, here’s a message from a reader who has a suggestion! BlessedAssurance.millertownbc points out that Richmal’s story features a lot more kissing than it does Bible reading, and she would be happy to take over the writing for a while.

Get thee behind me, Flossie.

Second Draft: A Group Chat

Group Name: Novel Strategy Chat

Members: Author, Protagonist, Love Interest, SubVillain

Author: Okay, welcome to this Group Chat. As we are all aware, the Second Draft of The Novel has been a pretty intense process. Thank you for your hard work. I only had to threaten explosions once to get people to cooperate, haha!

Protagonist: Explosions?

Author: Anyway, in this next section, the Protagonist faces strong opposition. I’m attaching several suggested courses of actions. Please consult your part and prepare accordingly. Let’s get this knocked out by Thanksgiving!

SubVillain: It says here that I leave an anonymous message. How do I do that? If I call her work phone, my name will show up. I can’t call her cell phone because how would I get her number — and callerID again.

Protagonist: I definitely would not give him my number.

Author: Dang.

Author: Dang cell phones.

Author: Cell phones ruin everything. Do you know how much easier it was to create mystery before caller ID?

Author: And it was simple to find a phone number, just look it up. Then you called the one line in the household, talked to somebody else in the family, and had them write down a “message from an unknown person.”

Author: Nowdays, you’ve got to create an entire subplot just for one anonymous message. Cell phones make everything harder.

Protagonist: Hey, 1991 called. It misses you.

Love Interest: Well, we think it’s 1991. Don’t have caller ID yet.

Protagonist: *high five*

SubVillain: lol

Author: Okay. So what if the call seems to come from someone the Protagonist trusts? I’m thinking from Love Interest. The villain has stolen his phone and used it to message Protagonist.

Love Interest: He got past my screen lock? He’s not that smart.

Author: Maybe you don’t lock your phone.

Love Interest: Everything you’ve written about me suggests that I am a private, skeptical person. Why would I not lock my phone?

Author: Ugh. Stupid cell phones!

Protagonist: ok genXer

SubVillain: Wait, where would I get his phone? It’s not like we hang out. And I don’t go digging in his pocket, do I?

Love Interest: If so, I quit.

Author: There is no pocket digging. Focus, please! Look, I was reading this women’s fiction thing recently. When the hero crashed into a tree, emergency personnel called the mayor about it

Protagonist: The mayor? Why the mayor?!

Author: and the mayor’s sister was the hero’s love interest so

Author: The heroine needed to know about it. This was the easiest way.

Love Interest: That whole scenario makes as much sense as that explosion you threatened me with.

Protagonist: Oh, it was you.

Love Interest: Yeah, it was either express my feelings for you, or BOOM

Protagonist: I thought things really picked up between us in this draft.

Author: People! Focus! The point is that the information transfer was successful. That’s what I’m going for here. We need this to happen. So what we’ll do

Protagonist: Let me guess. I jot my number on a piece of paper and carelessly leave it in view.

Love Interest: Or you’re going to have me take out my phone and carelessly leave it on a table, aren’t you?

SubVillain: And I’m going to happen to be around and find either the paper or the phone, and come up with an elaborate plan on the spot, right?

Love Interest: You aren’t that smart.

SubVillain: I know, right?!

Author: Okay. OKAY. Anybody got any better ideas?

SubVillain

Love Interest

Protagonist: Well, not really. That’s your job, isn’t it? We’re just here to follow orders!

Author has left the group.