I have such a mass of stuff from trying to write You Again that going through it is going to be a nightmare. That means I need a touchstone, something that I can hold up beside each piece I find to see if it fits the concept of the book I’m writing now. Which means I need a concept. After which, I design the touchstone, which in this case is revamping my old collage. And after that, I go through a ten-year backlog of notes, pictures, drafts, outlines, e-mails from beta-readers, hoping that some of it strikes a chord and can be used again. Thank god it’s the Mercury retrograde; this stuff is perfect for that astrological clusterfuck.
The first thing I need is my protagonist. That’s Zelda. I’ve called her Esme and Roxie and a couple of other things, but she’s really always been Zelda. I’ve tried twice as many placeholders for her as I’ve had names, but what I’m really looking for is an attitude: No-nonsense, efficient, sharp sense of humor, driven, running so hard she’s forgotten she’s human, good heart, loyal friend, pushed to the breaking point as the story opens. She’s got dark hair and sharp eyes, and she’s not taking any more crap from anybody. So that’s good.
I had a lot of trouble with Zelda in the past because she didn’t have a reason to want what she wanted. That is, she wanted to find out who her father was, but if she didn’t, nothing awful would happen to her. So this time around, I’m giving her an incurable blood disease that might turn into leukemia (write what you know), and a need to discover who her paternal family is since the maternal side has died out. Zelda is the kind of person who will not rest until she has the answers she needs, and as the story progresses and somebody tries to kill her to stop her from finding out, she digs in deeper. That’s always a problem with protagonists and conflicts: why don’t they stop when the going gets rough? But for Zelda, the fact that the going is getting rough is more motivation to find out what about her past is so dangerous that somebody will kill her for it. Also, attempted murder pisses her off.
The question is, Why? What’s at stake? Many years ago, I told Bob Mayer I had a book I couldn’t fix, and he said, “Send it to me, I can fix anything.” Since that was pretty much true, I sent it to him to work on over the weekend. On Monday, he e-mailed me and said, “I’m going to need a little more time.” On Wednesday, he e-mailed me and said, “I’ll get this to you Friday.” On Friday, he e-mailed me and said, “What the hell did you do to this book?” On Sunday, he e-mailed me and said, “It’s about the house.” I e-mailed back and said, “It’s not about the house. I don’t know what it’s about, but it’s not about the house.” Because it wasn’t about the house. Fast forward ten years, and it’s still not about the house. I think it’s about money, about the money Zelda will gain and somebody else will lose if she finds out who her father was. But it’s more than that, it’s about belonging and family, too. So I have to cogitate. But I know who the antagonist is, and that’s huge. Well, I think I know who the antagonist is. I have it narrowed down to two.
But back to my protagonist. When I went back to my collage, which is still a great touchstone, I realized that there was no there there: Zelda was buried in the mass of images:
So I found a picture that seemed to sum up her attitude, glued a lot of play money to it, and stuck it in the middle. I had to print the picture out three times, making it bigger each time, but now, at last, Zelda dominates her story concept. Progress:
(Lousy picture on my make-shift desk late at night. I’ll come back to it when I’ve updated the whole thing.)
So I have protagonist, goal, and motivation, plus identity (Independent Fixer). I love this protagonist and I want to write her. I love the love interest, Our Guy, and I want to write the love story. But the basic plot? Clogged with back story (two, count ’em, TWO previous house parties) and nothing in there that’s fun or new. Until I had a scathingly brilliant idea . . .
Coming in Part 3: The Scathingly Brilliant Idea.