Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Stage Is Set

This may not be true for everyone, but at least the way I write, it's been my experience that there comes a point in writing a novel where things get . . . easier.

Now, now. I know what you're thinking. But hear me out.

What I mean is, you've plodded through the first ten-thousand words or so, maybe hesitatingly, maybe with abandon. You've established the main characters, a few supporting ones, and their relationships.

You've described the primary setting, where most of the action takes place, and some secondary ones. You've laid the groundwork for action, or for humor, or for conflict, or for all of the above.

The stage is set.

And that's exactly where I'm at with my current novel.

Of course, I'm writing this no doubt only to spur myself on, to give myself the confidence to proceed. And as of this writing, I'm only about 12,000 words into the thing.

But there have already been a few instances where a situation came up wherein a character was in need of something to move the plot along and . . . bingo! I had already established a vague something or other earlier on in the plot where I could go to find what I needed.

Case in point:

If you read the brief excerpt I included above my last blog post, you'll find that my protagonist, young Chris Duggan, has learned that the remains of the shipwreck he discovered is about to be poached by nefarious types looking to sell pieces of it (or the whole thing) to people with more money than they know what to do with.

The excerpt ends with something like: "And the more he thought about it, the more he knew he wasn't going to let that happen."

Now, when I wrote that, I had no idea how Chris was going to stop the men from going through with their plan. But that's one of the challenges (and the delights) of writing. Because there comes a point in your writing where the characters even surprise you.

In this instance, Chris lives on a slice of land that juts into Cape Cod Bay, where he helps his mother run a bed and breakfast. Chris is home-schooled, but fortunately, the small village is filled with retired professors, artists, and other eclectic types who are more than happy to tutor Chris in his schooling.

One of these is famed New York artist Dale Deusenberg, from whom Chris is learning that just about anything can be called "art," from the discarded tires that Dale once painted and hung on the wall in a New York gallery (and were the hit of the season), to bits of seaglass and discarded trash along the beach that Dale encourages Chris to collect and make art with.

Dale himself has recently become enamored with the packaging from the fireworks he sees in his stops on his frequent drives to Florida. He comes home with boxes and boxes of the things, discarding the fireworks, but painting or making collages from the packaging. So when Chris needs to come up with a ruse to "dissuade" the thieves from taking the ship, he comes up with an idea:

Chris watched from above as eight hunched shadows approached the hole where the wreck lay, then watched them one by one descend the ladder into the earth. He heard their hushed whispers carried on the wind, followed by the muffled pounding of hammers. They were breaking down the formwork supporting the wreck, Chris knew.

He heard the tearing, crunching sounds of nailed boards being torn one from another, followed by dull thuds as the discarded wood was tossed in a pile. After two minutes or so, he began to hear the unmistakable sound of handsaws cutting wood and knew it was time.

Turning to the dog, he asked, "You ready?" The dog wagged its tail, cocked its head, and licked his hand. Smiling, Chris scratched behind its ear and got to work.

He turned on the flashlight, pointing its fading yellow beam where needed before sticking it in the sand. Severely weakened from hours of use, he'd been forced to make most of his final preparations in the dark.

After taking a deep breath and asking himself one last time if he wanted to do this thing, he flicked on the lighter. Using his other hand to shield the flame, he brought it in contact with the master fuse. After a nervous moment, it caught with a smoky hiss. He watched the fiery trail run slowly up the dune.

Is it brilliant? No. Is it art? Absolutely not. Is it entertaining?

It had better be . . .

Because I'm never gonna get by on my looks alone.


Aaron Polson said...

Funny how that "art" thing keeps rearing its derisive head, isn't it?

Entertained? Always. (We used to collect spent fireworks after the 4th when I was a kid, just 'cause the packages were so crazy).

Brendan P. Myers said...

Heh. You inspire me, Aaron. What more can I say!

Fox Lee said...

Firework orgy!

Brendan said...

Heh. Used about every descriptive term for the fireworks display that followed except "orgy" Natalie. Hoping to keep it PG and have thus far, but I only have so much control. But should things take a turn for the R-rated, I am SO stealing that!