Thursday, January 14, 2021

Avoiding the Perils of Mission Creep


The inciting incident of the work-in-progress (working title: Officer Involved) is the shooting of a white man by a black officer. Within 24 hours we learn this wasn’t just any white guy; Richie Johnson was a white supremacist. The book spends most of its time dealing with the tightie whites, neo-Nazis, and fellow travelers who come to town to protest this latest example of “white genocide.”


The first draft is done. Right now I’m going through each chapter in Scrivener to make sure it all makes sense before retyping everything in Word. I had more to correct than usual due to a large number of moving parts and simultaneous actions. Nothing that couldn’t be surmounted.


Then Trump Nation stormed the Capitol.


Don’t worry. This post will not turn political. Those who took over the Capitol for a few hours last week are seditious traitors no matter why they did it. I’ll say no more about them. What rattled me as an author were parallels between what I saw and heard and things I already had in my story. Then I started thinking about the things that weren’t in the story but would fit quite well.


I kept plugging along, fixing what I had already decided needed it, letting the new ideas percolate in my subconscious. Over the weekend bits of writing advice I stole from Edith Wharton came to mind, several of which apply here.


·       Do less, better. I had this book refined pretty well. Mission creep could be a problem. This led directly to

·       Know you scope. I’ve read too many books and worked on too many projects (remember when I had a job?) that started out tight and right and concluded as bloated messes. John McNally taught me to beware of putting too much into the container. If I still feel a need to cover these other ideas, I can write another book.

·       Lead with your characters. Making the story too broad inevitably leads to either an unrealistic time frame or a population explosion. Adding more characters would dilute the impact of the those more principal to the story.

·       Dialog is where you learn most about characters. Dialog is what I do best, but if there are too many characters (see above) the book requires either more narrative or door-stop length.

·       Create peaks and valleys. Throwing too much into the stew could make the story run too hot for too long. There’s a reason I rarely watch superhero movies.

·       Have a point. The book has a point now; no book needs a point and a half. The next Penns River novel, taking shape as we speak, can accommodate the new ideas.

I need an outline to write a novel. Without one I tend to get off-track and risk throwing away large chunks of writing that don’t go anywhere. The outline is flexible, but I can more reliably take detours if I have the map handy. This has been a good object lesson, on two levels. The one I’ve been discussing here, and that no matter how long one has been doing something, occasional reminders of basic lessons are never bad thing.

1 comment:

Elgin Bleecker said...

All good points, Dana. “Do less, better” needs to be on a coffee mug.