All right, I'll just make it official and say I'm taking a sabbatical for the summer. That's better than neglecting my blog and having that nagging feeling of guilt, right? Instead, I'm giving in to the siren call of a crisp, cool pool on a steamy hot day, the 500-piece puzzle strewn on my coffee table, and of course, the story that is itching to find its way onto paper.
Funny how I like to think I'm in control of things. Take this novel I'm working on, for example. I did a little plotting for a change. I won't say I went as far as putting together an outline, but I knew where I wanted to go. My main story happens on a small island off the coast of Africa. A romance, a washed-up castaway that throws a wrench in the story, and an attempted assassination that sends my MC back home.
But then I started writing the beginning of my story. You know, the first 25%, the set-up. And I found myself adding certain details I hadn't intended. And I thought, shoot, that's pretty good, but if it's in the first couple of chapters in a novel, it's a promise to the reader. You just told them that these things are important. That you'll explore them further, that your audience will get to learn more. How in the world am I going to do that? Sure, I saw possibilities, but it veered so very far away from my little island off the coast of Africa.
It hit me last night. My novel has decided to become a series. I never would have expected myself capable of writing a series. I have an idea, and I follow it through to the end. But here I have four individual stories waiting to be told, all tied together with an overarching main concept. WTF (let's choose "fudge" this time; I'd never say that other word)? How did that happen?
So, here are my four stories: a young boy with unusual powers who becomes a test subject at a laboratory built in a renovated slave plantation; that same boy who grows up to become an assassin; and then goes to work for Doctors Without Borders on a remote island; and finally comes home and initiates the end of the world.
Esther felt a wave of exhaustion settle into her bones as she shuffled her way through hugs and good-byes to the door. Her son, Edward, ushered her outside and helped her into the car. Another Christmas dinner come and gone, another year of loneliness spanned ahead of her.
He kissed her forehead at the door.
"Sure you'll be all right, Ma?" he asked.
She was in remarkably good shape for her age. Spry, she would say, of both mind and body in spite of her 93 years on this planet. It was the reason they let her stay in her home -- in their home -- by herself.
"Shush, son, I'm just fine. Ready for a little sleep, though." She smiled up at him and patted his cheek before going inside.
She went through the motions of getting ready for bed: changed into her flannel nightgown, brushed her teeth, took her meds. She turned out the light, too tired for reading tonight, and climbed into bed.
Sobs overtook her, racked her body. She missed him so much. He was her best friend. Twenty years gone, and still she missed him, still reached for him across the bed, still expected to see him sitting on Janey's couch, bouncing a grandbaby on his lap.
She wore herself out, quieted, and a strange peace settled over her. She couldn't sleep now, but that was all right. She had plenty of time to sleep. She wouldn't be getting up again.
It wasn't really suicide, right? After all, they stopped feeding that Terry Schiavo lady so she could pass on, and no one thought that was murder. She wondered if it had really been painless for that woman, like the doctors said. Terry couldn't rightly tell them otherwise, now could she? Esther hoped that when the time came, if it did hurt, and she faltered, that she'd be too weak by then to do anything about it.
God would forgive her. He'd have to. He'd have to let her in, have to let her through those pearly gates. He had to let her find him.
Use this sentiment or theme for your story “I miss my best friend”.To play along, visit Write Anything's [Fiction] Friday, here.
Ironic note -- as I post this, Brahm's "Lullaby" is playing on my stereo. Cosmically fitting, I think!
But occasionally, I'll be reading a book, sometimes a very good book, and I'll notice that the character is asking a lot of questions through inner dialogue. And it begins to irritate me. The character starts to seem whiny and weak. Is that really what the author intended? I'm especially annoyed if all the characters keep asking questions, and it doesn't seem authentic to me.
Here's an example:
"Good grief, I think. Do people really do that? Do they ask themselves questions over and over? Why can't they just form an opinion and stick to it?"
"Good grief, I think. People don't really do that. They don't sit there and ask themselves questions over and over. They form an opinion and stick to it."
Guess which example reflects my actual thought? The latter.
Maybe I was being unfair. I decided to investigate. Since reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, I have been writing stream-of-consciousness morning pages for several months. I have three or four notebooks filled with my uncensored thoughts. I picked up one of my old notebooks and thumbed through it, looking for question marks.
What did I find? Long expanses where I did not use a single question mark. I discovered I'm very opinionated when it comes to my husband, my children, the birds outside, and the weather. I noticed I occasionally threw in a rhetorical question, especially if I was trying to be clever or funny.
But then I'd hit a passage that blew my theory out of the water. Tons and tons of question marks. I read closer to find out what was going on. I discovered that when I was truly soul-searching, I used a lot of questions. If something was bothering me and I needed to dig it up, I asked questions. But here's the kicker. They were not rhetorical questions, and I always answered myself.
My conclusion, then, is that questions can be useful in inner dialogue if used purposefully. If you have a weak character, questions are a subtle way to emphasize that weakness. It's also a subtle way to show character arc when you have a weak character gaining personal strength -- change the inner dialogue from questions to statements of opinion. And it's very powerful to show your character wrestling with inner demons -- if you remember to answer the questions you raise.
What do you think? Do your characters ask too many questions?