lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
(Whattaya know, for once I've actually managed to do the 'nother post!)

So, I've been flailing pretty hard on the Haley novel lately. I've worked out the new plot satisfactorily, for definitions of "plot" that include where the characters start and where they end up. But as I've said before, there's knowing what happens, and then there's knowing what happens.

And I've been stressing a lot over what happens. Trying to work out the intricate puzzle-piece steps of getting from E to Z. Trying, in short, to write a plot-driven book, or rest-of-book. And I've realized that I'm barking up not just the wrong tree, but possibly an entire wrong grove, if not outright forest.

Some things to remember, for the rest of this book and perhaps future ones:

1. When in doubt, play to my strengths. I'm good at character stuff, perhaps especially angsty character stuff. Intricate puzzle-piece plot, not so much. And I've been so focused on making the replacement plot work that I lost sight of anything else. This was never meant to be a plot-driven book, I've no desire to write all-plot-no-character, and let's face it, anybody who's looking for a Christie-esque puzzle will have given up long before the end of Chapter 7. I need to focus on the characters; while the plot has to hold together, it is primarily a framework to hang the character stuff on.

A practical demonstration: I had two options for a minor point in the scene I was working on the other night. I stopped and considered: which way would make my MC suffer more? And 900 words just fell out of my fingers.

2. Real mysteries don't do what I'm trying to do, either. This part of the book is essentially a mystery plot; my character has to figure out what the bad guy is up to, and how all these other people connect to it. This, I've been telling myself, mostly involves my character looking at a lot of accounting records and similar tedious legwork details. How on earth do you make that interesting?

Answer: You don't.

I've been studying mystery plots a bit lately. Mostly by watching Remington Steele, a task which is its own reward. Remington Steele is an all-around good show; while I primarily watch it for character, it also has solid mystery plots. Frequently -- I'd hazard more than half the time -- key clues to the mystery are found via the DMV, tax and financial records, and other equally exciting database searches. And yet, these are virtually never shown on screen. Oh, occasionally we'll see Laura surrounded by stacks of paper or Steele struggling with the computer, but even those are brief glimpses; we don't see the process. The vital information is presented by the simple expedient of one character telling it to another. (Mildred especially does a lot of this. A lot.)

And this is a thing I've been really struggling with in the current WIP. My MC needs to be looking up this sort of info, and since I've been doing spy-procedural stuff in other sections, I felt like I ought to show her doing it. But while I know generally what's in these sources, I don't know what they look like, so the usual descriptive tactics aren't available to me. And there's still the issue that even the cleverest wordsmithing can only do so much to make a computer search sound cool.

So the solution is: Don't describe it. Just present the end results to the reader, perhaps with some reported thought about how hard/easy it was to find. It feels like cheating, but it's cheating with a long and honorable tradition behind it.

3. Characters can talk to each other. The other significant thing in the above is that a character reveals the discovered-off-screen information by telling it to another character. This works great if you have a detective duo (or trio). It's trickier if you have a character flying solo. You can always have a character talk to themselves, of course, either outright or as reported thought, but it works a lot better if they've got someone to explain things to. (Cue every Doctor Who companion ever.) And my poor MC is flying solo for much of this story.

I was already subconsciously leaning toward addressing this: there's a scene where the MC's boss passes along a fistful of leads, several of which I'd tucked in before I quite knew what I was going to do with them. And to keep other factors balanced, I was setting my MC up to have to work with, hmm, not the antagonist, exactly, but another player whom she for very good reasons doesn't trust, but, for equally good reasons, has to keep at least somewhat involved. (Some of those reasons are the same reason, in fact.) So there's a question of how much she'll willingly tell this person, which limits their utility as a reveal-to-the-reader sounding board... but there are interesting character things I can do to work around that. Which takes me right back to #1, not coincidentally.

Add these up, and I might just be able to get a finished novel out of this thing.

Oh, yes, and:

4. Get the damn coffee, already. Yes, money, calories, whatever. Bought the double mocha?: 900 words, easily. Didn't really "need" the mocha?: struggling to write anything. You do the math.

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