Friday, October 14, 2011

The Right Prop

Frankie here. Last Saturday, our local chapter of RWA had a day-long workshop. Our speaker was Leanna Renee Hieber, who writes a series (set in Victorian London in a parallel universe) with elements of myth, fantasy, and the Gothic. Leanna has a background in theater as an actress and is now adapting her first book as a Broadway musical. Her workshop was about applying the techniques of theater to writing.

Post-workshop, I returned to the manuscript that I’m been revising (my 2019 police procedural). I scanned the pages thinking about my city, Albany, as a setting and about how I could make better use of the unique architecture. I thought about my characters, their motivations, and how they moved through space.

What I didn’t think about was props. I didn’t plan to place a gun over the fireplace that would have to be fired by the last chapter. All the other objects I thought I needed were already in place.

But something was still wrong. That last chapter that my editor has asked me to expand was not working.

After another four days of getting nowhere, I spent Wednesday night tossing and turning, in that twilight place between dreams and wakefulness. I woke up sluggish and cranky. To get through the day without channeling Ishmael and knocking people’s hats off or taking to the sea, I decided to work out to an exercise video.

In the middle of a kick, it all fell into place. Instead of the verbal slip by the killer that I thought I needed, what I really needed was a prop. Something my police detectives could see and comment on, but that would only make sense in that final chapter. Not a piece of evidence at the crime scene . . . no, something commonplace. Something I could put in plain sight in an everyday setting. Something the killer saw and realized action needed to be taken.

When I thought of this prop everything else fell into place. I saw it all. I was there in my killer’s head and understood why three people had to die.

My mystery isn’t likely to be adapted as a musical, but I’ve been doing my happy dance with occasional whoops of joy.

As Leanna observed, learning about the creative processes of people in other fields can make us better writers. I’m going to take an acting course and maybe one on set design, learn to play the guitar, and how to sculpt. Take a cooking course . . . seriously, I do need to get out of my own little world more.


Rick Blechta said...

Gee, Frankie, these days when I do a kick, something is more likely to fall out of place!

Help or enlightenment can often come from the most unlikely of places.

Happy writing!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Rick.

Luck was with me. Sometimes the only thing that happens when I exercise while trying to think through a plotting problem is that I hurt myself. That gives me an excuse not to exercise again for a while.

resume said...

Great post. Thanks a lot.