One of my favorite parts of watching a new DVD is going to the menu and choosing the “Making Of” option. I love watching the actor interviews, the thoughts from the director, the ideas that went into the scenes, the trivia that you don’t see when the movie itself is spread before you. (The above photo is not only one of my favorite movies, but also one of my favorite “Making Of” sequences as well.)
If you can do that for DVD’s, why not for books, too?
Here’s the first part of my (intended) three-part “Making of Soul Survivor” blog. Hope you enjoy!
Soul Survivor is the fourth mystery I’ve published. By now, you’d think I’d have caught onto the “algorithms”, so to speak, of how to write a mystery.
How wrong I was.
In every mystery, there must be:
a.) A villain.
b.) A hero and/or heroine
c.) A multitude of cliff-hangers
d.) At least one major plot twist
You may or may not know this, but most mysteries run between 70 and 80 thousand words. After 70 or 80 thousand lexicons of adrenaline-laced action and adventure, here’s my question:
WHO HAS TIME FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT?
As I was writing Soul Survivor, Eden (isn’t that a lovely name?) stumbles into the race for her life when she discovers that her past is actually very much her present, and her survival depends entirely on her ability to hide the one piece of evidence from a decade-old murder.
Is the adrenaline there? Sure. Plot? Yep. Cliff-hangers? Every chapter ending. Major plot twist. Oh yes there is!
That’s where I struggled.
In the 70 to 80 thousand words that line the pages of this book, even though I wrote the book in first person present tense, even though Eden deals with a magnitude of internal struggle and pain and guilt, I still felt like I couldn’t identify with the poor girl.
Maybe that was the problem. I was trying so hard to identify with her (writing in first person, getting inside of her head), that I lost perspective of the story happening around her, and how it shaped her.
Back to the mystery elements. As I began my rewrites, I tried to step back from the story and see how each one affected Eden, the main character.
Without giving away any spoilers (it is a mystery, after all), I wanted to give the “bad guy” some depth. Layering. A sense of “this could be me with different life-choices” sort of feel. After a few rewrites, I could see this coming through. I added some between-chapter snapshots of “Villain Point of View” *cue the freaky music*. As you read those, you start to see (or I hope you do) why the villain has become who they are, and as you watch the interaction between Eden and the villain, you can see character begin to establish itself. Give. Take. Ebb. Flow. This is the cornerstone of every relationship, whether good, bad, or in between.
2.) A Hero/Heroine.
You’d think Eden would be the heroine of the story, and she is. But who says you have to have only one? I love reading stories about kick-bootie heroine girls as much as the next person, but in reality, this is a rarity. Just as I wanted to add layers to the villain, I wanted to add layers to Eden as well. As much as I love superheroes–Catwoman or Shera or anyone else–a heroine without a vulnerable spot dries up quickly for me. So, to give Eden the vulnerability that she needed, I inserted a hero. Enter Jake. *swoon* Now, there’s more Give. Take. Ebb. Flow. Lots of room for layering, and the second cornerstone added to the foundation.
3.) A Multitude of Cliff-Hangers.
Every mystery needs to retain the pace. If you have a character dozing by the fire with a book across their lap at the end of the chapter (and your audience are adrenaline seekers), you’re going to lose them real quick. Now, if you have a character dozing by the fire with a book across their lap at the end of the chapter, and you hear the window snick, you’ll have grabbed the reader’s attention. If the character jerks their gaze to the window where the darkness bleeds in across the carpet and then you end the chapter, you’ll ensure that the reader plunges ahead into the next chapter.
But how does this build character?
It’s All About Reaction. The event is just that–the event. The snick across the window will never grow larger or smaller. How Eden reacts to the snick says a lot about her character. Does she fling down the book, go hide in the closet? Does she rush outside, grab a gun (or a baseball bat if she should happen to lack a gun-registration permit)? Does she call her parents, boyfriend, neighbor? Set the dogs loose? Burn the house down? Mumble in her sleep and close the book to settle more deeply in her armchair? So many possibilities for her character to spread itself across the page, to morph into something different just with one. tiny. snick.
4.) At Least One Major Plot Twist.
Okay, so this is similar to the cliff-hangers. It is, again, all about reaction, but this Plot Twist is the cornerstone on which the entire book hinges. So Eden’s reaction here is perhaps where the reader will examine her the most closely. They’ll want to know: is she a Survivor? Or will she simply slump into the background, fade into the mist of Ordinary? Ordinary characters don’t get books written about them. Survivors do. How Eden reacts determines her outcome, not just in the plot, but who she is as a person.
When I wrote Soul Survivor, I didn’t know all the things I know about Eden now. My characters live and move and breathe for me. They have to, or I wouldn’t be able to write about them. I hope you enjoy Eden as much as I do. Even if you don’t, I hope you’ll be able to appreciate the character she’s become through the events of her story.
She is, to me, a Survivor.