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Gosh Darn It, Rae!

September 22, 2013

Some writers control their characters’ destinies, maneuvering them within the plot like department-store mannequins, scrolling them teleprompter-style through bits of dialogue, and generally manipulating them to conform to the story.

I am not that kind of writer.

I always feel a bit like I’m transcribing events a friend told me over coffee. . .

Character:  “So I went on a quest last week.”

Ali: “You went on a quest?”

Character:  “Yeah, a quest.  You know how it is–you’re laying there at three in the morning, there’s a pounding on the door, and suddenly you’ve got an epic journey to get a Thingamagummy Of Potential Devastation back to the Location of Prime Importance by Thursday.”

Ali: “But . . . I thought you were going to Storm the Inpregneble Fortress last week.  With the Determined Legion Of Grim Mercenaries?”

Character:  “Nope, totally questing.  Also, it was raining and I broke my ankle.”

Ali:  “I wish you would have told me that earlier.”  <begins cut-pasting chapters into the Damn It, This Didn’t Work/Extras file>

It was a dark and stormy night when the pounding came on the door . . . 

That said, one of my most reliable characters, Rae, is generally easy to write because I pretty much always know *everything* about what’s going on with her.  If she lived in Brooklyn, she would be the one Instagramming pictures of her french toast.

My word count goes way, way up on the days I write Rae’s scenes.

Rae has one small quirk that will get me in trouble, though.  Whenever her character has done something to be ashamed of, she doesn’t tell me about it.  At all.  I’m writing away, feeling groovy and proud of myself, the page numbers just ticking away into double digits, exposition damned near invisible, dialogue sharp and witty and dangerously funny . . .

And I hit a wall.

And I have no idea what’s gone wrong.  Suddenly, the story feels . . . well, like a story, not like the truth.

And then I realize that the common factor is Rae, who for some reason did something boneheaded ten pages ago that sent the plot karooming left on a hard course for Albequerque.

Like the only thing she had to do was Send The Missive that would Summon The Cavalry*, and instead she Left The Missive In Her Other Coat and Went for Ice Cream And A Nice Walk On the Seashore.  And my poor fingers are dangling over the keyboard, waiting to be all Suddenly, there was a thundering of hooves, and Lo! The Cavalry appeared over the crest of the hill–**, only there is no cavalry.  And I’m trying to figure out how I managed to misplace an army when I realize she’s trying to quietly sneak out of the scene without me noticing her.

And this is why I have a list of at least twenty-two ways that Rae may die in the course of this story.  Because seriously.

*No, this is not what she actually has to do, because I am not a Terrible Writer That Give Plot Points Away On Her Blog.  And also because that sounds lame.

** Because it’s logical to run your horses up a hill before you sweep down in a heroic charge, right?  Ye gods, I know I’m playing the Illustrative Cliche game here, but there’s cliche and then there’s Just Makes No Damn Sense.

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