DRAWN Haunt – Just Because You Can

Edinburgh - Writer's museumThe DRAWN Haunt party continues today with a post about how to tame all those big ideas into one tightly written book.

The DRAWN Haunt is a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. All October you’ll find here book-related posts about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts, explore the blog, and check back often or subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

DRAWN was a complicated novel for me to write, but it definitely taught me a lot. So here’s the most important thing I learned…

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN

Fiction writers can create a story out of anything, and every character they put down on paper can have their own conflict, their own story line. This is both a blessing and a curse.

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In DRAWN, Marie Lamba deftly entwines romance and mystery, past and present, into a page-turning adventure. Buy it today and I promise you’ll be finished reading far too quickly! — Joy Nash, USA Today bestselling author

When writing my ghostly time-travel novel DRAWN, I knew I was creating what, for me, was a “big book.” Up to that point I’d been writing novels that took place within a tight one month time frame. My plots revolved around my town and were populated by people very familiar to me. “Write what you know,” they say, and I knew the worlds of my first two young adult novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD very well. But DRAWN was a different sort of story.

Time is slippery in this time-travel book, involving a month-long time frame in the present, but also an eight-month long time frame in the past. The setting is present day AND 1460 England. I’m a bit familiar with modern England, having lived there for a semester and visited numerous times, but the past? Not so much. Intensive research was required. My characters in this new novel range from Italian-Americans, to British citizens, medieval lords and courtiers and servants. Add into this mix a plot line where the past and the future continues to be altered as our heroine travels back and forth in time and, well, you have a big book indeed.

And I struggled a bit to make sure it didn’t turn into one big mess. Which gets us to the heart of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I can’t tell you how many characters I spun out into entire story lines with their own scenes and character arcs…and some of these characters don’t even appear in the book anymore. You might think the solution is an outline, but even when using an outline it can be hard to tell just how far to go with a character’s story or to know which scenes might be important.

Sometimes the only solution is to write it through and then cut cut cut! Sure, you are doing a ton of character research by writing those extra scenes. But when the character ends up being barely a minor one, it becomes a case of TMI. You don’t need all, or sometimes any of that stuff. And by heading off here and there on wild plot chases, you are wasting time, wasting your energy, and muddying your own clear view of things.

In DRAWN, I’d created this character Guncha, who quickly became one of Michelle’s friends after Michelle moved to England. Guncha was gossipy and romantic-minded, so she was the perfect person to give Michelle the scoop on things, and to nudge her in matters of romance when Michelle finds herself stalked by an unknown guy who also, by the way, mysteriously appears in Michelle’s sketches. But when it came to Guncha, I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, Michelle was visiting Guncha’s house, sleeping over, meeting her family, learning of Guncha’s conflicts with her traditional family. And Guncha was planning an escape with a secret and unsuitable boyfriend, etc. etc. etc. Nearly one hundred pages later, I realized that my story had naturally strayed far from its central focus: Michelle and her encounters with Christopher Newman, the hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.

So, refocus and cut cut cut! In the final book we only see Guncha at school and at a carnival. There is no secret boyfriend. No family to speak of. And Michelle wishes she felt closer to her, but realizes that she just can’t share her own secrets with Guncha. How would Guncha ever understand that Michelle’s budding new relationship just might be with a ghost? As Guncha implores Michelle to tell, but secrets continue to build, the reader is in on the gossip instead of Guncha, which is fun. So in this case, I would have saved a ton of time if I could have decided up front not only that Guncha was going to be a minor character, but also what her true function in the plot would be. This is a biggie, because if I knew this I could have smacked my own hand every time I deviated from this mission.

Sounds good, right? But what if your extra character’s story parallels and weaves into the main plot, adding intrigue and mystery? Why wouldn’t you stray into that storyline?  DRAWN involves an ancient murder, and a chilling curse that still lingers in the town’s castle. In the book, the Wallingford Papers (based on the real Paston Letters…look ‘em up if you’re curious) are a series of preserved family letters dating back to the 1400s. They detail the history of the murder, and the heroism of the Wallingford ancestors. But are all the letters actually in the public record? And are they to be believed? This plot is essential to the book, involving the fate of the ghost and pretty much everyone in the story.

Okay, so doesn’t it seem obvious that a scholar could be at the heart of rooting out this mystery? Since the Wallingford family reputation (and much of their success) hinges on their heroic background, wouldn’t you expect that family to do anything to keep their family name clean? So, is it that crazy that I created a scholar who in the ‘50s uncovered their secrets and was about to go public with it, before an untimely death? Flash forward to the present, and I also created Mr. Llywelyn, a history teacher at Wallingford Academy (Michelle’s new school) who was related to this very scholar and who is also fighting to uncover the truth of the murder, the papers and the death of the scholar, and…

Cut cut CUT!!! Jeesh. Do you see how the fiction writer’s mind can spin and weave and deviate from the main story path, even while she is following that very same path? Yikes, it’s like entrapment I tell you. In the end I had to give a long hard look at the story elements that were most essential. Yes, I wanted a scholar who was silenced, but I decided that this scholar would have absolutely nothing to do with the history teacher. The scholar now has merely a mention, just enough to add to the danger and the gravity of the treacherous ancient secrets being kept. As for Mr. Llywelyn? Well, he’s Michelle’s history teacher, instructing the class about the very era Christopher the ghost inhabits. The teacher’s role is now limited to occasionally adding in a fact about the Wallingford Papers, about the dangers of living at that time, etc., thereby ramping up the tension for Michelle when she realizes what these facts mean to a ghost she’s starting to have spooky good feelings for. I had to focus on Michelle as the hero, as the person who solves the mystery and makes things happen. No way should this be relegated to another character.

So again, a supposed major-player was reduced to a few lines. Lines that were necessary and served the plot. And beyond that? Well, this just wasn’t his story.

Sometimes writing a book is a process, sometimes it’s an ordeal, but it’s only successful if we give our draft a hard look and decide if scenes are moving us forward, and if our deviations are truly creating the book we’d set out to write.

As I get further along in my writing career, I’m training myself to create a clearer story line and to force myself to stick to that path. If the story is complex enough, like DRAWN is, there is no need to deviate and take elaborate side trips into other character paths. It’s enough, while plotting, to stick to the main issues and simply ask myself: And then what? And then? And then?

The answers, surprisingly, can equal a rich and complex novel.

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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DRAWN Haunt – Why it’s Positively Medieval!

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Castle drawing by Marie Lamba…from my sketch pad during my college semester abroad in England (illustration copyright M. Lamba)

The DRAWN Haunt party continues! I’m celebrating the 5-year-anniversary of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN all month here. In today’s post I take a close look at those knights in shining armor — why does the idea of chivalry still haunt us? First, a quick reminder! ***Today is the last day to get the Kindle version of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN for just 99 cents by clicking here!   This special 99 cent sale ends today, Wednesday 10/11 at 8 p.m., when the sale price will then become $1.99, but only through this Friday. After Friday at 9 p.m., DRAWN‘s ebook will return to its regular $3.99 price.***

To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts this month, check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here. 

Now, about why chivalry still makes us sigh. Here’s my essay on…

WHY IT’S POSITIVELY MEDIEVAL!

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“…this book deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops! The author’s imagination and plotting skills are phenomenal. I think this is the 4th or 5th time I have read Drawn, and each time, the second I start that first paragraph, I am a captive in her perfect, imaginary world, and I never want to leave.”
— The Geekery Book Review

A knight in shining armor… Yes, there’s definitely something swoon-worthy here.  But why is a medieval hero so appealing?

It may have something to do with sheer strength, or perhaps with those high leather boots. But what I really think it’s about is a romantic sensibility that took root in those times. Tales of ill-fated lovers like Tristan and Isolde, or Guenevere and Lancelot. Countless ballads of longing and lost love.

This tradition definitely influenced me as I wrote Drawn. In the book, a young artist from New Jersey named Michelle De Freccio has just moved to England with her dad when a guy starts appearing in her sketches. When she meets him in person, she’s pretty sure she’s losing her mind. She’d definitely have to be crazy to fall for a guy who has been dead for several hundred years.  Or to become entwined in his past and the mysteries and dangers that surround him…dangers that include treachery and murder. Talk about ill-fated.

Michelle tries not to get involved, but she’s drawn to Christopher:

He suddenly grabs my arm. Pulls me close. “You are the one who is not of this castle. No one knows of a Michelle from Jersey. Not one soul swapping the latest news in the castle courtyard has heard of you. What is your game?” When I don’t respond, he says through gritted teeth, “Tell me!”

“There’s no game,” I say, my voice unsteady.

“Liar. For some reason you are sent to undo me. Or you plot about things far worse, far more traitorous. And fool that I am, I had thought you were the one who would…”

We are very close now. His intense eyes grow sad. I am all too aware of his fingers wrapped around my arm. Of his face bent toward me. Of his auburn hair falling over his forehead. Of his soft full lips. I again feel myself drawn powerfully to him. Feel my breath catch as his grip loosens and his hand slides up my arm. This is crazy.

MP900385307While writing this novel, I did a ton of research about the 1400s. I wanted to create the feel of another era, but I also wanted to connect to a world that really wasn’t so different from our own. What I found was that people back then spoke of love in ways we can still relate to today. In fact, at one point in Drawn I have Christopher express his feelings using words I’ve lifted from the Paston Letters (a collection of family letters that dates back to the Middle Ages).  Here’s a glimpse at that scene in my book:

I feel Christopher’s hands tighten at my waist.

He swallows. “I realize you do not feel so of me, yet I must avow my heart to you. If we can secure my noble title and wealth through deeds for the Earl, then I will not have need of a wealthy wife.” He takes a deep breath. “And then I could lay my very life down to give you my protection and love, no matter what obstacles rest between us. Your indifference is to my heart a very spear. If I had even the slightest hope you would one day suffer to have me…”

And in a later scene in my book, I have a wounded Christopher sing the following authentic medieval ballad to Michelle:

Westron wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again

As a writer, it’s fun to breathe fresh life into these long-forgotten words.  And because some of the phrases I use in my book are from private letters, it feels a bit like spying and then tattling, which I find wickedly entertaining.

But back to the whole knight in shining armor thing.  Maybe the appeal has to do with chivalry.  A man who not only opened the castle door for his lady but also wore her scarf tucked in his armor as he fought to the death defending her honor. These days guys wear sneakers instead of those high boots, they wield cell phones instead of swords, and go off clubbing instead of off to battle…

Fortunately love and romance do remain today. In the pages of books like Drawn, in the stories and ballads of the past, and, yes, in the arms of modern guys, too. Sure, today’s guys may wear sneakers and carry cell phones, but the good ones are still propping open that castle door.

***Remember, the 99 cent sale of DRAWN ends today, Wednesday, 10/11 at 8 p.m. Then the ebook will be sale priced at $1.99 till Friday at 9 p.m. before returning to it’s original $3.99 price. To take advance of these special DRAWN Haunt celebration prices, Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.