Novel in progress 12/22/21

Here’s how I left my Scrivener project today (left side is the Binder; middle section is the text for Scene 7, and the right side is a character card (a text file) for Hannah Dodd).

To me, there is no more important feature to the Scrivener writing software than the binder. Although I’ve read and studied intensely how to outline a novel in full up front before writing the first word of the story, I always gravitate to the pantsing side of the fence. However, during my past two completed novels, and now my WIP, I’ve adopted a pantsing with a twist approach: from the beginning I don’t know where my story is going, but once it does, and I have a scene in mind, I outline that scene and move on.

Notice in the binder (Scene 7), I created a text file, “Hannah and David do some probing.” And, under that, there are two subfiles (“What if Glenn was supposed to have a meeting at 11:00?” and, “Had neighbor seen something [?]” Notice, the next text file is “Who are Hannah and David?” There are several other text files, but for now, let’s limit this discussion to the above.

Recall, when I start a scene, I know very little. What I do know is the result of asking a simple question: what should happen next? I try to put myself in the story and think logically about what might happen.

Here’s an example (story alert): prior to Scene 7, Glenn has been kidnapped, and the pair who grabbed him returned his Mustang to his home and took his Toyota Highlander. Further, I had just completed a scene where the protagonist (yes, he’s one of the kidnappers!), checked up on Glenn at the barn where he is hidden. So, I thought, what else is going on at this same time? Glenn owns Elkins Hardware; it’s a Monday. The store has opened and Glenn is always there by 6:30. Thus, I decided to change POV and write in third person (previous scenes were in first person).

From my outline, and over three days mind you, this is what I created [I’ll insert some current comments in brackets and bolded]:

Scene 7

“No luck.” David said as he walked inside Elkins Hardware. “Mustang’s right where it was this morning. No sign of the Highlander.”

Hannah Dodd, Glenn’s operations manager, stood behind the front checkout counter and shook her ash blond hair, a habit she’d perfected in high school over twenty-eight years ago. “This is getting surreal. You know he’s a robot six mornings a week: eat breakfast at Grumpy’s, and here by six-thirty.”

David handed Hannah a stack of mail the post lady had handed him outside. He was more worried about his future than his boss’s health or happiness. “If he doesn’t show, will that be it?” A chance to manage a big box store was David’s dream, but that hinged on Glenn’s 1:00 PM meeting [to fit my timeline I changed the meeting to 1:00] today with Home Depot’s Joel Griggs [full disclosure: this character was created by visiting Lowe’s website and borrowing the names from two actual people]. Their fourth in as many months, with today’s seal-the-deal meeting at Atticus French’s law office on North Main.

“My guess is yes, since the City of Albertville is trying to woo the Depot with more incentives.” The business phone rang and Hannah grabbed it immediately. “Elkins Hardware.” She looked at David and shook her head sideways, while mouthing, “Pastor Miller.”

[The above gets us “in the moment.” Now, I delve into my Binder question, Who are Hannah and David?]

Hannah and David were the glue that held Elkins Hardware together, although Glenn naively believed it was himself. David had started part-time in the tenth grade. Hannah, as Gracie’s best friend [Gracie is Glenn’s daughter], had unofficially started in middle school, satisfied with a bag of Planter’s Salted Peanuts and an RC Cola in exchange for sweeping the floors and flirting with prospective customers who looked like they had money.

Hannah’s official hire date was August 13th, 1993, the day Glenn and Gina moved their only child to Tuscaloosa to attend the University of Alabama. Gracie and Hannah had been friends since first grade and were destined to be close forever, including sharing a dorm room at Tutwiler Hall for four years. That had all changed when Hannah’s father was killed in an auto accident and she was left with an invalid mother and an eleven-year-old sister to care for.

[David needs to get to his office. I thought a believable interruption would be helpful.]

“I need some paint.” A customer interrupted David as he walked to the stairwell that led to a row of offices overlooking the front half of the store.

“Hold on, I’ll grab Troy.” After doing so and settling into his office, David called Valerie at the French Firm. “Hey, it’s David at Elkins. Have you seen Glenn this morning?”

“No, and I don’t have time to chat. I’m getting ready for the closing.” Valerie said, ending the call without a goodbye. David had always had a crush on the voluptuous Val, but she still didn’t know it.

[Here’s more about David—hold on, I’m getting to that ‘probing.’]

Gerald, Glenn’s father, had hired David in 1970 as a stock-boy when he finished the tenth grade at Boaz High School. Four years later, with an Associate’s degree from Snead State under his belt, and a growing fascination with numbers, Gerald had moved David into sales for three months before awarding him the lucrative sales manager position. But, it was Glenn who’d figured out David was more valuable as finance manager since he could work magic with interest rates and late fees, not to mention his easy-going, highly persuasive personality.

David sat behind his desk and opened the middle drawer. He removed an eight by ten-inch photograph of the newest house in Hunters Run, only six weeks away from completion, and David’s occupancy. But, and that was a big but, only if Home Depot was coming to Boaz. A sick feeling in his stomach made David want to rip the photo in half. He would have if his desk phone hadn’t started ringing. [Here, you can start to see the importance of that 1:00 PM meeting, at least to David. I don’t have a clue how this twist came to mind. Maybe it was from my Binder/outlining—there needs to be some reason Hannah and David find Glenn (recall, he was kidnapped yesterday afternoon)].

Unenthusiastically, he answered, “David, Finance Department.”

“Is this Mr. Vance?” The voice was old and vaguely familiar.

“It is. May I help you?” David said, wishing he hadn’t been quite so short. However, an old lady, three months behind on her washer-dryer payments, was the last thing he wanted to deal with.

“This is Irene Capps. We talked this morning.”

“Yes mam. You live across the street from my boss, Glenn Elkins.” David sat up straighter and felt a slight breeze of optimism. “Have you remembered something?”

“No, but Charles has. You know I told you I go to bed at 8:00 but my old man stays up till at least midnight.” Irene’s voice was scratchy, like sandpaper.

“Did he see something across the street, at Glenn’s house, last night or this morning?” David instantly thought he was about to learn his boss was bedding the widow Dorothy Frasier, whose husband Frank had died six months ago from Covid. The plain looking but sharp dressing woman had been politely stalking Glenn since the beginning of summer.

“Hold on. You best talk to Charles.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. David thought. While he waited, he couldn’t help but look at the two-story Tudor one more time.

“Hello.” A gruff, let’s-hurry-up voice said.

It took a trio of back-and-forth questions and answers for Charles to tell his story. To David, it sounded like the old man was drunk as a skunk.

“So, let me summarize.” David believed this was the best way to pin Charles down and get off the phone. “A little before midnight, you and Brandon, your miniature boxer, were outside peeing. I mean, Brandon was peeing. That’s when you saw Glenn’s Mustang ease into his driveway with its lights off. Am I right so far?”

“It’s a shitzu.”

“Okay, then you saw a man exit the Mustang and drive away in Glenn’s Highlander. Right?”

“Yep, got her from Second Chance Kennels.”

“Brandon’s a girl?” David often asked irrelevant questions.

“Yes.”

“Charles, I’ve got a customer waiting, so let me ask one last thing. Which way did the Highlander go?”

“You hold on while I wet my whistle.” David could hear ice cubes tumbling into a glass.

“Okay, but hurry.”

Two swallows later, Charles continued. “Towards Elder.”

“Thanks, now one more. Sorry. Did you get a good look at who was driving the Highlander?”

“Come on baby, come on.” David’s mind didn’t like the image that suddenly appeared. Was Charles coaxing Irene or Brandon? “Now, I’m sorry. Brandon is a daddy’s girl.”

“Charles, could you tell if it was Glenn driving the Highlander?”

Without hesitating, Charles dismantled David’s theory. “Oh hell no, the guy was shorter, fatter. It couldn’t have been Glenn.”

“Did you determine this when you saw the man get out of the Mustang and walk to the Highlander?” David’s mind scrolled through a list of Glenn’s friends and customers who fit Charles’ description.

“I guess, and when he turned to look at me as he drove away.”

“Okay. Thanks. One last question and I promise this is it.”

Before David could ask, Charles added, “Yeah, that’s what they all say.”

“Is there anything else you can recall, anything at all?” David literally crossed his fingers, eying the English Tudor.

“Hold on, let me think.” David shook his head and hoped he wasn’t going to be so dense when he was old. “Got it. I knew there was something. You want to know what it is?”

Oh my fucking God, David squeezed his right hand to keep from sounding the words, “yes, please.”

“The man’s jacket. I mean the back of his jacket. It had something written on it. In yellow. I couldn’t tell if it was a word or just some letters. But, I know the first one was an F. Might have been ‘fuck off,’ but I’m only guessing.”

David sat and pondered. Falcons? That might be it, the Atlanta Falcons. Or was it Faith? He had seen a group of teens wandering through the Appliance Department a few months ago wearing tee-shirts with Faith across the back. David heard the line go dead. That’s when he remembered the youth was from a church in the valley, Cox Chapel Methodist. Yes, that was it. And the group might now have jackets with Faith highlighted in yellow across the backs.
David returned the receiver to its cradle and concluded he was beyond desperate and was doing nothing but chasing an uncatchable rabbit.

END OF SCENE

As stated, this draft of Scene 7 has taken all week. It’s still a little messy, but you should have seen it yesterday.

One other thing about my writing method. Yesterday, I pretty much had the basic ideas down, but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon’s bike ride that I thought, “Doesn’t David need to learn more from Charles, Glenn’s across the street neighbor?” At that time, all Charles had told David was about seeing a man (who wasn’t Glenn) bring the Mustang to Glenn’s house—with lights off—park it and drive off in the Highlander.

So, biking, I kept thinking, “what could Charles have seen that might be harmful to my protagonist (yes, that kidnapper guy)?” It wasn’t until this morning during reread and pondering that same question that I remembered Marlon (okay, now you know the name of my protagonist) wore his FBI jacket the first night he was in town. Bingo if you have an F. Ha.

Finally, if you ask me how this yellow F is going to play into my story, I’ll have to say, I don’t know. But, hopefully, I’ll find out when I get there. Who knows, it might just appear in the Binder at just the right time.

Magic? No, it’s just pantsing with a twist.

Beemgee/Character/Task

In early September, we embarked on a long and detailed review of a wonderful story development tool known as Beemgee (fyi, that’s also the name of the company that created the tool).

Beemgee’s focus is both plot and character. We started with character. The three attributes we’ve considered so far are external problem, want, and goal. Today, let’s look at task.

Simply put, task is what the character has to complete to achieve the goal and solve the external problem. Task is all about what a character does, his actions. It’s not about what’s going on inside him. Rather, it’s about his external world and how he behaves toward it.

Think mission. Rarely does a character have to complete one task. A mission, say, to travel to the deep, dark cave and destroy the dragon, is comprised of a series of tasks. For example, the hero might have to investigate the cave’s location. He might have to acquire special supplies and weapons. He might have to enlist an ally or two. To accomplish the mission, our hero engages in a multitude of activities.

These actions, including what happens when our hero reaches the cave and engages the dragon, will fill a vast portion of our story plot. This fact should trigger at least a brief moment of satisfaction for us writers.

Think about it a minute (you might want to review the external problem, want, and goal posts (not goalposts). We’ve given our hero a problem he must address (it’s been festering for a while or it hit him out of the clear blue sky). He wants to be free of the problem, thus he sets a goal for himself. For example, he must kill the dragon before he can rescue the princess. Now, we’ve given him a mission comprised of a multitude of steps he must complete before he can achieve the goal and solve the external problem.

See how all this fits? Do you see how your story is developing? Of course, we’re just starting, but it appears Beemgee is a viable way to construct a story worth writing, and hopefully one attractive to our readers.

One final thought. Our protagonist isn’t the only one with these four attributes. Think about your antagonist. Commonly, his external problem is the protagonist and what he’s trying to achieve. Thus, the antagonist’s goal is to stop the protagonist by pursuing a mission filled with multiple steps.

Characters with opposing goals create conflict. These battles are seen all along the path toward goal fulfillment, no matter whose goal we’re talking about. During every action by the protagonist to complete a task (locate the map that reveals the cave), he is faced with opposition, a hardy resistance to his success.

And, everyone knows without conflict, there is no story.

Take out a pencil and start thinking about the task your protagonist must accomplish to achieve his goal. Do the same for your antagonist and his helpers. By the way, does your protagonist have an ally with a somewhat conflicting goal? Will it hinder your hero in some small or large way?

This activity will help you learn more about your characters. Remember, they are defined by the actions they take. Don’t be too dictatorial, you might miss out on how they can surprise you.

Photo by Andrei Tanase on Pexels.com

Please provide your email address if you would like to receive The Pencil Driven Life blog posts.

Sanity Snippet #12

In Sanity Snippet #11 we determined our inciting incident (what gets our story moving). Today, let’s consider the opening image.

As the name suggests, this image should be unveiled at the beginning of our story. Many experts contend it should come shortly before the inciting incident. Naturally, it should reveal the protagonist in his ordinary world (recall, that’s his life before he sets off on his adventure at the end of Act I).

Let’s step back, we’re not editing our manuscript. We are developing our story. We are a long way from writing our first draft. Sanity Snippets are all about getting started with our novel. Much will likely change later on. For example, the inciting incident we recently chose, may change. The point is, we need to start somewhere. Also, as to the timing of the opening image, don’t get bogged down on whether to choose a day, week, month, or year prior to the inciting incident. The goal is simply to make a decision and go forward.

Keep this quote in mind as you plod along:

Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.

Stephen King


Here’s an exercise you could try. Grab a pencil and start free-writing. Think about your hook, the inciting incident, and your first act break. What ties these together? Or could? Brainstorm, jot down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about them being far-fetched. You are thinking. You are writing. You are engaged with story creation. It can be messy and frustrating, yet ultimately rewarding.

Let’s say the story idea you’ve been developing throughout these Sanity Snippets has a politician as the protagonist. He’s already served as state representative and governor. Now, he wants to run for U.S. Senate.

Maybe the inciting incident you choose is his fifteen year old teenage daughter who is coming to live with him. And, she’s pregnant (her backstory could be any number of things, as could that of your protagonist).

Maybe your protagonist is an opportunist of sorts and chooses to ‘use’ his pregnant teenage daughter to promote his senatorial campaign. At the first act break, he reveals she will not have an abortion (protagonist is against, even says “all abortion is murder.”).

Now, what is your opening image? What is your protagonist doing twenty-four or forty-eight hours before he learns his teenage daughter is coming to live with him (backstory: what if she was a mistake? Meaning, the daughter is the product of an illicit affair fifteen years ago?)?

Maybe he is giving a campaign speech revealing his position on abortion? Maybe he is in church (is he religious? Probably, but it’s your story) listening to his pastor preach his most aggressive pro-life sermon? Keep brainstorming. In the context of the example, raw materials start surfacing because you have gained entrance into your story through the process we’ve been pursuing in the Sanity Snippet series.

Keep thinking, keep writing, and remember, you don’t have to get it right the first time. Your story may change as you continue to outline. It may change during the writing of your first draft. Stay engaged and story will slither up beside you.

Question: is today a good day to commit to a regular writing routine?

Photo by ICSA on Pexels.com

Beemgee/Character/Goal

Let’s beemgee. Beemgee is a company that offers a story development tool of the same name.

Before we can write, we need to know a few things (preferably many) about our characters, and what they’ll be doing.

This is the third post in my Beemgee series. I recommend you read my first two posts, Beemgee/Character/External Problem and Beemgee/Character/Want, before reading about our characters goals.

For now, let’s focus on the protagonist. We know he has an external problem, and he wants to solve that problem. His want is a desire for a future state. His goal is more tangible. It’s a point in time he has to reach. It’s the point at which he solves his external problem.

Readers want to know our protagonist’s goal, how he’s going to solve his external problem. They’re constantly asking themselves, “will Wild Bill reach his goal?” Readers likely won’t buy into our story if the protagonist’s goal is nebulous.

Would you get excited enough to invest ten or fifteen hours of your precious time in a story where the hero’s goal is to “feel better about himself”? Not likely. We want him to stop the serial killer. We want him to win the girl. We want him to discover the vaccine, win the election, or expose the conspiracy that sent an innocent man to prison.

Goals transform a random walk into a chase.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

As you probably suspect. The protagonist goal (to be a fitting goal) takes a while to accomplish. Our hero’s journey, and thus our story’s plot, will comprise the steps he has to take to reach his goal.

It might take the entire novel. Or, our hero may accomplish it by the story’s midpoint. If the latter, the second half of our book will deal with the consequences of our protagonist reaching his goal. Maybe, he realizes, reaching his goal didn’t fulfill an inner need, and there’s something else he needs to do. Maybe he discovers there’s another wall to climb before learning the truth, or finding the princess.

It’s your turn. Take out a pencil and start brainstorming. If you haven’t already, give your protagonist an external problem, and describe what he wants. Finally, give him a clear and definitive goal.

In my next Beemgee post, we’ll consider our protagonist’s task.

Photo by Joe Calomeni on Pexels.com

Beemgee/Character/Want

Let’s beemgee. If you missed my September 3rd post, Beemgee is a company that offers a story development tool of the same name. Note, I didn’t say a story writing tool (think Scrivener). Before we can write, we need to know a few things (preferably many) about our characters and what they’ll be doing. Of course, if you are a pantser, you just start writing and discover your story as you go along.

This is my second post about Beemgee. This is also my second story development series. See my Sanity Snippets posts to review H.R. D’Costa’s method for outlining a novel. I encourage you to buy, read, and study her book, Sizzling Story Outlines.

Beemgee is clear that story development requires a detailed and thoughtful consideration of both character and plot. It recommends starting with character since plot emerges from what our characters do.

My first post in this series was about our protagonist’s external problem. This is either a situation he finds himself in or a mission he chooses or has been assigned. External problems are not limited to our protagonist. Other characters, especially the antagonist, will have their own external problem. It could be the same but usually, as far as the antagonist and his helpers are concerned, it is directly opposed to the protagonist’s problem. Think of a detective and a killer. The detective is working to discover who killed the victim. The killer is working not get caught.

For now, let’s limit our thoughts to the protagonist. After we’ve discovered his external problem we should address what he wants (we really don’t have a story unless our protagonist wants something). The answer is rather simple. He wants a resolution, to be free from his external problem.

There’s actually two different types of want: the wish, or character want, and the plot want. We’ll limit our consideration to the latter. However, to put the two wants into perspective, review this example (from Beemgee):“Marty McFly wishes to be a musician (character want). He also wants to get Back to the Future (plot want).”

As to the plot want, Beemgee puts it like this: “The desired result of this solution is usually a state of being: solving the problem leads to marital bliss, wealth, power, immortality, survival, etc. So the want tends to be abstract – a state as opposed to a specific thing or point in time. It is distinct from the wish because it comes about because of the external problem. The want is the implied reward for achieving the more concrete goal of the story.”

Here’s an example from my second novel, The Boaz Scorekeeper.

Micaden Tanner attended a high school graduation party at Club Eden, a secluded cabin owned by the families of five classmates known as the Flaming Five for their basketball prowess. Twin girls from another school also attended the party and never made it home that fateful Friday night. A few days later, Micaden is arrested and accused of kidnapping and murder although the twins have not been found. He quickly learns he has been set up.

Micaden’s external problem is apparent. He stands to lose his freedom if he’s convicted at trial.

What Micaden wants is also apparent. He wants to be free of his external problem, his arrest and his upcoming trial.

There’s more. He wants justice for the twins. In essence, Micaden wants to live in a world where the Flaming Five are held accountable for the crimes they committed that fateful night.

By the way, you can read The Boaz Scorekeeper for free. Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/i9qbcspivt

It’s your turn. Take out a pencil and start brainstorming. If you haven’t already, give your protagonist an external problem. Then, describe what he wants.

I encourage you to follow this series and complete each exercise. You will acquire sufficient knowledge to draft your first novel (or second, or tenth).

In my next Beemgee post, we’ll consider the protagonist’s goal.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com