Friday, March 05, 2021

Using Distractions

Writing teachers tell us to make our protagonist's life difficult. 

Personally, I've had major life events that not only made my life difficult but sent my life spiraling out of control. But more often, an event that I either anticipated with pleasure or thought would be easily navigated is what causes chaos. For the past six weeks, the source of that chaos has been an adorable new puppy. (See photo to right -- Fergus at four months, now five months and taller. Note the flash of blue sock peeping out of side of old loafer that was gnawed by sharp puppy teeth).

As I pick up ripped paper (spilled from knocked over wastebasket, torn from toilet paper rolls, envelopes, or book covers) and wipe up water spilled from bowls, food dumped from dishes, and pee that missed designated pads, I have been thinking about the disruption that a puppy could cause in my protagonist's life not to mention her investigation. 

Hannah McCabe, my Albany PD detective brought home a rescued Great Dane puppy at the end of What the Fly Saw, but I left it there. The book was over and she had her father and brother to help with puppy care. But what if the dog that plays a role in my first Jo Radcliffe novel -- set in 1950 -- ends up spending a few nights at her house? A subplot that could both disrupt her investigation and move the story forward. 

In my 6th Lizzie Stuart novel, the visit to Santa Fe at Thanksgiving to meet her fiance's family for the first time takes her out of Gallagher right after a woman she saw disappears. When she gets back to Gallagher, the project that she has been working on to aid a church congregation that wants to have its building declared a historic site needs her attention at the moment when she is  drawn into the investigation of the woman who disappeared. These distractions -- the family visit and the church research -- function as subplots that grow, respectively, out of what is happening in her personal life and out of her work as the director of an institute. 

I enjoy reading other writers' books in which subplots emerge naturally from the lives of the protagonists -- the job changes, the births, the illnesses of family members, the cooking classes, the noisy neighbor -- whatever they have going on when the crime occurs. Reminding myself of that has helped me with the 1939 historical that I'm working on. Asking myself what was happening in a character's life when she left home on a train heading for New York City -- rather than focusing on what would happen when she got there -- has provided a subplot that is essential to the main plot. The character now has motivation that I had not anticipated for two important decisions.

So, back to my puppy chaos. I wonder what might have been in that envelope that was ripped to pieces?



Tanya said...

We love baby Fergus! (Shoes can always be replaced.) How is Harry handling his new role as big brother?

Re: the issue of subplots, I think you hit on a critical point. Readers can always tell when a main plot point or subplot is too contrived or out of sync with the rest of the story. Your advice to allow subplots to emerge naturally from a situation or character is excellent. That will ensure that they ring true and enrich the story instead of being an awkward bump.

Wishing you and your furry crew a great weekend!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thank you, Tanya. Fergus sends a tail wag.

Re Harry -- it seems he is reserving final judgment. He may not have lived in a house with a dog before, and he is curious. But, on the other hand, he seems less than thrilled with the barking and the puppy smells. But Fergus is getting older fast, and I'm hoping daycare -- beginning tomorrow -- and some training will settle him down.

Yes, that's the thing about subplots. When I try to contrive them, they never really come together.

Take care,