Closed Doors

on November 16, 2006

The other day I was reading Theresa’s post over at Magical Musings about how her mom always thinks Theresa’s unhappy or depressed because of her dark stories.

This led me to be grateful for my own mother who loves my books and doesn’t think I should be locked up–either in a loony bin or prison.

But it also got me thinking about my husband, who reads all my books, and some of his concerns. He doesn’t like some of the plot points. For example, he didn’t like the near-rape sex scene between the villain and the woman who controls him. He doesn’t like one of the cutting scenes in my upcoming book SEE NO EVIL. But with both of those, he saw the scene in the overall context of the story and while he didn’t particularly like the details, he did admit that the scene moved the story forward and was pivotal to character and plot.

So I’m in the middle of FEAR NO EVIL and I’m on a tight deadline. I usually don’t run ideas by my husband because–though he’s very smart–he doesn’t quite “get” what I write. He reads predominately history books and westerns, though I’ve introduced him to a few thriller writers that he really likes (Michael Critchon and James Rollins specifically) so I’m looking for more books like those for my hubby.

Anyway, I was sort of talking to myself. FEAR wasn’t working and I knew why, and I knew I was going to have to write in a plot point that I wasn’t really comfortable with, but without it, the book would be ho-hum. There would be little urgency and it would be contrived. I NEEDED it. And it fit the story and the characters. It’s exactly what the villain would do and I know WHY he would do it. I made the mistake of mentioning this plot point to my husband, and he said, “Why? Why can’t you just have her tied up? Why do you have to do anything to her?”

Well, it’s not me, it’s the villain. And I can’t have her just sitting there throughout the book waiting to be rescued. It doesn’t work. I saw it almost immediately. Now that I allowed the story to flow naturally, it’s coming so much faster, there is a far greater sense of urgency. I’m sure like the other scenes he was uncomfortable with, he might not like it but he’ll agree that it’s necessary to the overall story.

Talking to my husband about ideas is never a good thing, and I should have learned my lesson, not only from this FEAR discussion, but with other roadblocks I’ve faced in the story. While he’s good with very specific questions (i.e. “Dan, how would I disable a car?”) he doesn’t get overall character and story problems.

But I did it yet again. Last weekend I sort of took a “break” from writing. I’d finished my copyedits on SEE NO EVIL and I needed to do some research for FEAR. And inevitably, because I wasn’t immersed in my story, I started thinking about the NEXT trilogy I want to do.

This is how the conversation went:

Me: (watching news program about California flying prisoners to other states because of overcrowding) Hey, Dan, do you know if they send violent criminals out of state, or are these just your normal riff-raff?

Dan: I can find out.

Me: Well, it wouldn’t work anyway. Too much like THE FUGITIVE if I had the plane crash or something.

Dan: What?

Me: For my next trilogy. You know, the one that starts with a prison break. I thought maybe it’d be cool to have the plane disappear or something, and that’s how the prisoners escape. I’ll just have the earthquake.

Dan: Earthquake?

Me: Remember? The earthquake under San Quentin that enables the bad guys to escape?

Dan: Is it on a fault line?

Me: The prison is in Marin County! It’s right on the coast. It’s California.

Dan: (the former geology major) But that doesn’t mean it’s on a fault line. Let me check.

Me: (rolling eyes.) I’ll make up a fault line. They’re always discovering new ones anyway.

Dan: (looking at me like I’m dense) It has to made sense geologically for a fault line to be there.

Me: (changing subjects) So should they be in the exercise yard during the earthquake? Yeah, I think they’d have to be.

Dan: I can ask so-and-so. You know he’s a guard there.

Me: (lighting up) Great! I need to find out where, if there were an earthquake, the prisoners would need to be that would be the easiest to escape. And it’s going to be a good sized earthquake, because there needs to be lots of damage and confusion so that police and fire have other concerns, not just catching these guys. They need to get away, otherwise I don’t have a story.

Dan: Why don’t you have a boat off the coast? One of the prisoners looks out his cell window and sees this boat float up and beach itself. He’s thinking about it, wonders if the guards have seen, and then when the earthquake hits he remembers the boat and disappears that way.

Me: Don’t you think that’s contrived? Just to have a boat sitting there outside the prison?

Dan: He’s been watching it a long time. You can start the book with the boat floating to shore, maybe it almost gets crushed in the rocks, but it doesn’t . . .

Me: That’s kind of slow. I want to start with the earthquake. Right place at the right time kind of thing, taking advantage of an opportunity . . . .

Dan: Well, you have see if there’s a fault line running under San Quentin . . . .

Dan can read all my books. WHEN they’re done.

Which reminds me of something Stephen King said in his book ON WRITING: write with the door closed, revise with the window open. Or something like that. Basically, write your first draft without external input, but when you’re revising and cleaning up the book, seek opinions.

What about you? Do you like a lot of input during the story formation? Or do you write with the door closed, then open the window and let the criticism begin?

And if you’re not a writer, tell me this: do you care if there’s a REAL faultline under San Quentin, or can I make it up?