Book Done Yet: The Devil Is In the Details

So I spent a good chunk of this week researching equilibrium, bicarbonate of soda, and goats.

Hellgoat

A first draft is really just getting stuff down on paper and sorting it out later, but if you’re throwing in details like “She can see blood on your hand if you’ve killed somebody,” eventually you’re going to have figure out WHY she can see blood. Or why does he make the air around himself warmer and she make it cooler? And then there’s the fact that he’s the Devil, which is was the starting point of the premise and which I’m battling in every scene now. I am so not a Devil-as-hero writer (that would be Krissie). So I don’t need to know everything in the discovery drafts, but at some point, I’m going to come up against a story move that means that I have to back off and consider the whole world of the story in all its glorious, messy detail.

This is the world building problem that Salpy was talking about in the comments to the last PoI post:

“Isn’t this exactly what you’re supposed to do, though, when you world build? Take your premise to its extension and see if it still holds up? And if it doesn’t, start plugging in the holes!!”

Well, yes and no. Your first job as a storyteller is to tell the story. Building the world is important, but not nearly as important as plot and character and theme and all that good stuff. You’ve probably read stories that were completely realized worlds and not much else. You can’t prioritize world-building, it’s always in service to your story. BUT . . .

If the world doesn’t work, if there are inconsistencies or plot holes or questions that throw your reader out of the story, then world-building becomes vital to story and moves to the top of the first draft to-do list.

So I blithely created a heroine who’s always cold and a hero who gives off heat because . . . because that’s what the Girls in the Basement sent up. Keep writing, don’t look down, worry about that later. And he’s the Devil but he’s human. And dead. And a rogue demon built an island as a hellgate because . . . I dunno, but whenever I type “rogue demon” I think of Wesley saying, “I’m a rogue demon hunter,” and Cordelia saying, “What’s a rogue demon?” And I wanted a Macbeth plot, the hero and the heroine crossing in their arcs. And . . .

Crap, that’s a lot of stuff. So I’ve been thinking (and not getting blog posts up on time, sorry about that).

For example, Nick’s going to become alive again, but not because he’s with Nita. There has to be a reason some force is making him vulnerable and human again, and I’m not a fan of LURVE as scientific method. Psychologially, just being back on earth again after 500 years is going awaken memories, so I’m good with him glomming on to the illusion of physicality–enjoying food, touching people, etc. But I also need him to evolve from keeping the illusion of having a human body (since his is a skeleton mouldering in the grave) to actually having a human body so that when he gets shot again, this time he bleeds. I know he’s going to think it’s the antagonist doing it to him, but I’m not sure that’s it. So I can plot his character arc as he becomes human again psychologically with a physical arc as he gains a body again, but until I know why the hell that’s happening, I can’t really use that to plot. More than that, until I know HOW it happens, I don’t know how this world works as far as living and dead.

And then there’s Nita. When she shakes hands with (touches, really) people who’ve killed someone, she can see blood on their hands. The easy way out is that she’s psychic, but that doesn’t tie it to the overall plot, which means it’s not going to work. This is a story about demons and alternate dimensions, but this power she has is nothing to do with that, she’s just psychic, too? No. Unity dictates that it has to be all of a piece, along with the fact that she’s cold all the time.

That’s the push-pull of the first draft. You have to be able to go anywhere, do anything without censoring yourself, but at the same time you have to know how your story world works or you can’t go far enough.

And that’s even before I got to the classification of demon goats (Capra baphometus? Capra baphometa?) and why bicarbonate of soda probably isn’t going to cure Nita’s iron poisoning unless it’s Hell’s bicarbonate of soda and god knows what the scientific name for that is. But here’s a nice video on equilibrium I found very helpful in figuring out hellgates and what happens to demons when you cut off their heads:

And the classification of hellhounds is Canis lupus cerberus. Or as Nick calls him, “Stripe,”so now all I have to do is figure out how hellhounds work. I added a hellcat, too. I can’t imagine Nita living without a cat, especially if it’s a stray that nobody likes which would be right down Nita’s alley, so now in addition to the hellhound world building, I have to figure out how a stray hellcat got to the island.

Joyce

The good thing is, after a lot of heavy thinking and heavy googling, I’ve pretty much got a grasp on my storyworld (helps tremendously that I put it on an island in a lake too treacherous to cross by boat). All I’m missing is the answer to the question that Nick keeps asking: Why would a demon risk everything to open an illegal hellgate onto a cold, rocky island in the middle of nowhere?

I’m working on that one.

[NOTE: The post for PoI “4C” will be up within the next 24 hours. As I was writing it, I realized it was a great example of how not to write the Big Misunderstanding, so I scrapped what I had and started over.]

111 thoughts on “Book Done Yet: The Devil Is In the Details

  1. Wow following that process was amazing. And I think I got something from it too. I have been avoiding writing the next scene in my wip because it probably involves describing protags digs. Which I hate to write description. And it shows in my writing. But this is a first draft. I think I got that if it doesn’t hinder my plotting I can skip that for now. I think. Seems to good to be true.

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  2. Cats go where they want and do what they want. I can’t imagine a hellcat would be much different myself.

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    1. My thoughts exactly, Beth!

      But I love this idea that the whole world needs to be consistent. And I love that it’s involving so many seemingly disparate things.

      And I *loooooooooove* that there might be a Macbeth plot. That reminds me, I never did get around to watching the new Fassbender/Cotillard Macbeth… better get moving while it’s still on Amazon Prime.

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    2. Am I the only one who read “Happy Cat Bastard” immediately upon clapping eyes on that cat pic?

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      1. Nope, that’s exactly where my mind went. And then I looked around for my own mongrel-faced hellbeast. I think she’s plotting something. She usually is.

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      2. The “Bast” was for the goddess. I’m open to other suggestions, but Felis catus has to stay because that’s real.

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  3. I too think of “What’s a Rogue Demon?”

    Sigh, Whedon.

    I remember reading an awful, awful book. It had a cover blurb from another author saying (paraphrased), “A world as rich as …” Insert name of author with great books and world.

    After I read it I felt the blurb author’s pain. Committed to say something about the book but it was so bad, this was what s/he could say.

    Never be the author writing a book with detailed world and nothing else. Never be the editor who accepts it without insisting on revisions. Never be a blurb author who commits to a blurb and then only sees how awful the book is.

    Did I tell y’all the ballet was wonderful? If not, guys, IT WAS SO GOOD. Abridged stories due to travelling with smaller corps de ballet but worth every cent.

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  4. When should world-building be always tailored to the story (function follows form), vs. when does incompatible world-building mean that the story/characterization might need the revising instead (form follows function)?

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    1. Story first, always. And story is character and plot.

      BUT, it’s also setting, the context in which the story is told, the surroundings that give it shape and form because of the laws of that world. So you have a space at the beginning while you’re writing a story and designing a coherent world to serve as a backdrop and story guard rail, if you will, but after a certain amount of time, the story is set and so is the world, and if at that point, in rewrites, you come up against the story world, you revise to the world. That is, if you suddenly need to kill a demon, and you’ve said demons are immortal, unless you’re willing to go back through and not only take out all mention of demon immortality but also kill at least one demon to set up the crucial kill later, then you can’t kill that demon later.

      The story in the beginning determines the world, but once that world is determined, the story has to abide by its rules.

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      1. Yes. Playing by the rules YOU MADE is very important. I’ve read books/watches movies where a character goes somewhere that doesn’t fit in that world. Drives me crazy, because the author broke their own rules! Grrrr!!

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  5. This is all so very complicated. Thank goodness I’m not a writer and don’t have to figure this stuff out. Oh, wait…

    Also, I love the hellgoat and I have a lovely hellcat I can send you to be an example for your work.

    It’s really too bad you’re not actually writing this book.

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  6. So getting back to Nick becoming alive again, and Nita being able to discern blood on the hands…is it possible the shared basis for each could be empathy? In the case of Nick, as the Devil, he is essentially a sociopath. They’re good at knowing what neurotypical folks feel, just not good at actually experiencing that feeling.

    So maybe being on earth with all the cellphone and wifi waves abounding, it sort of triggers his (dead) brain/being in the way scientists are experimenting with Deep Brain Stimulation, with the result a sort of rebirth of his ‘human’ side?

    As for Nita, can she move from a sort of cognitive empathy to more of an emotional empathy, maybe as a result of the hellgate being open (which would explain why it didn’t happen to her before, if she’s a resident of the island)? Again, something to do with physics and waves? I’m no scientist, but it’s mighty interesting to me as to how you’ll make this work!

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    1. I like the empathy suggestion. It’s very mortal and carries the potential for conflict in nearly every arena.

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    2. The problem is that empathy is an abstract. So you have to explain it rather than show it, and then explain how it translates into action. You want to stay as far away from abstracts as possible and stick with good old physical reasons that people can accept without pulling themselves out of the narrative to think about.

      The air around Nick is warmer because he’s expending a lot of energy to keep the illusion of a body going. Every been to a gym? Lotta warm bodies in there working out. Anybody who’s ever become warmer after physical exertion will get that immediately.

      I’m still not completely sure why Nita can see blood on the hands of murderers, but I’ve got a pretty good, simple idea. Simple is key.

      Oh, and Nick’s not a sociopath. None of the previous Devils were, either. Read Paradise Lost. Lucifer’s a rebellious, angry angel, but he’s not a sociopath. The Devil just has terrible PR.

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      1. I am currently at the gym, working out and…yeah, okay. You’re right.

        It also smells really bad in here. At least give Nick a good aftershave. NOT Drakkar Noir. If there is a hell, that has got to be its odor.

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        1. He has no body, so no sweat glands. And absolutely no aftershave. (Shudder.)

          I just realized that the simpler way to explain the whole not-an-abstract thing is Occam’s Razor. So I went to double check and found this in Wikipedia:

          “In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.[3][4][5]”

          And that’s really the important thing about a simple explanation: a complex, abstract explanation is going to have more holes in it, and you’re going to have to explain away those holes, and in doing so make the idea much more complex, when all you really wanted was a logical explanation for how a small part of your story works. This is “The Devil in Nita Dodd,” not “Why Nita Can See Blood On the Hands of Murderers.”

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      2. Could Nick be pulling heat from Nita (not realizing it’s her he’s pulling it from), and that’s why Nita’s cold? Though if Nick is putting out a lot of energy to project a real-looking body, when his attention slips, he’s not going to be a very attractive hero/anti-hero/whatever he is.

        Since she’s cold, could she be seeing kind of a heat residue from spilled blood?

        Totally your not-a-book, not mine. Just a thought. Well, a couple of them.

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      3. Could the blood on the hands be because acts of violence leave a sort of after-image? It’s such a strong thing that, like some hauntings, the act leaves a psychic echo in the world that those with the ability can perceive.

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        1. That would work in Maybe This Time because I could, as you pointed out, tie it to hauntings.
          But I want it tied to guilt.
          Of course, if we’re talking about a traditional Hell, that would fit right in, but I’ve designed a non-traditional, non-punishment oriented Hell, so I have to figure out the place of guilt in that context. It’ll be there, I just have to give the Girls space to figure it out.

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  7. The hell cat just ran out the portal gate as someone was leaving, perhaps hiding under the body of the hell hound or just making a dash for freedom the microsecond someone’s attention is diverted because they are tripping over a shoe and trying not to fall head first into a wall/open door edge/concrete step and then won’t let me catch him as the little bugger runs all over the yard. Errr, island. Yeah, this is a fictional cat. He’s not named Pumpkin or anything like that.

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      1. Good. Because he’s enough of an egomaniac as it is. He seriously hides under the dogs so I won’t see him. Orange cat is completely invisible under a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd. It’s a super power and he’s just an ordinary cat, not a hell cat.

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      1. I would like to preface what I am about to type with the statement that I adore each and every one of you. Respectfully, I know I am going to catch hell, if you will, for this but… I hate cats. Vile little beasties. The hell I envision has plenty of them so, I guess a cat in this story is spot on.

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    1. Could be kind of like salmon and all the other animals that bear young at the spot they were born? She can like Hell, but her kittens need to be born here?

      Or maybe she’s just attracted to the chaos (like all cats) brought about by the gate?

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  8. This is an example of what my brain does when spends too much time sitting around watching blood get drawn.

    You mention that Nita has a cold aura. Which led me to think of a slight vacuum and the coldness of space. Which led me to think that perhaps what she sees is the murderer’s own blood vessels dilating briefly due to whatever “vacuum” creates the coldness of her aura. No idea why it only works on murderers and not everyone else.

    My brain can be a random place.
    And the hellcat is using Nita to find Nick since he’s the only one who can send her back to hell

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    1. Yes, but then I have to explain about blood vessels and vacuums, none of which has anything to do with the story.

      It really does go back to Occam’s Razor. What’s the simplest explanation in terms of this story?

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      1. Couldn’t it just be part of her personality like the perfect pitch for musicians? Or like my sister who has the ability to remember colors. She doesn’t need color swatches when she goes shopping, she just knows that “this is the exact shade of green my skirt has”. And she’s usually right.

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        1. In reality, yes. Happens all the time.

          But a story needs to be unified. It’s possible to give somebody perfect pitch without tying it to the character in some intrinsic way, just part of who she is like brown eyes and a dislike for cilantro, but then it’s just a detail and doesn’t need to be mentioned. If it’s going to be important to the story, then she has to have perfect pitch in the first scene to set that up, it can’t just come in later.

          BUT the thing about perfect pitch and the ability to remember color is that they’re not supernatural; they happen all the time in real life, so they don’t need to be explained. But a psychic (?) ability in a supernatural story needs to be tied to that supernatural world so that the reader can see it all working as a unifed whole in the background.

          Put another way: Readers expect that the stories they read will make sense, that everything they read will fit somewhere in the story they’re building in their minds as they read. So they’ll hold on to loose ends until the ends of the story, expecting everything to come together at the end. If they’re left with an untied narrative thread at the end, it’ll bug them and spoil the afterglow of the story. “Yes, but WHY can she see blood on murderer’s hands? I know, she’s supernatural, but WHY blood?” Untied threads become unsolved mysteries,and you want all the mysteries solved at the end of a story.

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          1. Had to chime in and say, yes! Please don’t leave dangling loose threads. They are truly bothersome.

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  9. How did the stray hellcat get on the island?

    That’s easy – someone opened a door and said don’t go through it and the cat went through in a flash.

    I’ve owned five cats in my life and only one of them saw an opened door and went and hid. The other four – all indoor cats – saw an open door as their chance to be Elsa in Born Free. One of them shot out in four feet of snow and ran around happy as a lark – until he wasn’t.

    The one cat who was born outside and found by the side of the road in a thunderstorm- you open a door and she looks at you and says, never, never again. Then she goes & hides until you’re shut the door.

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    1. Yeah, I don’t think the cat’s trying to leave hell permanently. But you know, there was an open door and a way to make something inconvenient for somebody and, well, cat.

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  10. I’m certain the hell cat also keeps her awake. I have an alarm cat, who cannot tell time so she wakes me up every so often just in case, and to pet her. My other cat is an angel. They’re siblings.

    Liked the video! Also am glad you are figuring things out and that there will be a cat in the book.

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  11. As far as seeing blood – better eyesight? Like special genetics thing (you said her Mom was supernatural?) that means she can see things other people can’t. Maybe she just sees blood on human skin up to X days after it’s been there.

    No solution here, but could you tie demon hell gate thing to Nita’s supernatural ancestor (forgive me if I’m making that part up) being in the area? If the hellgate and her mom are in the area for the same reason, and Nina’s weirdness comes from Mom, that’s some sort of tie between Nita’s reason for being how she is and the hellgate’s (and thus Nick’s) reason for being there.

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    1. Nope. Too complicated, so I’d have to explain it.

      The more complicated the reason, the more page space I have to give it, and the less space I have for story.
      It has to be something that aligns with the action of the story, so that it needs no explanation, just somebody pointing it out.

      Ex: Nick is dead, which is demonstrated in action when he gets shot seventeen times and doesn’t die, and in dialogue when the cops say, “Why aren’t you dead?” and he says, “I was dead when they shot me.” That’s not back story or explanation that interrupts the story, that’s part of the story, Nita interrogating him as part of the murder investigation. Dead means that in real life on Earth, he’s a skeleton holding a sword in a tomb in Italy, which comes up when Button researches him and shows Nita a picture of his tomb. And when he wants to make Vinnie pay attention, he shows him the skull beneath the illusion. So later on, when Nita says, “Why?” he can say, “It takes a lot of energy keeping up this illusion, and energy gives off heat. Now about the hellgate . . .” and I haven’t lost any story real estate to explain why he gives off heat. The reader finds out when Nita does.

      So it has to be a factor of who Nita is, which I’m still working out. World is still in formation stage here, so I can tweak, I just can’t break down walls.

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      1. I get it now…simplify. Nick’s hot due to energy generated in making the illusion he’s alive. Of course!

        Does Nita really ‘see’ the blood, or is she just as onservant as Sherlock Holmes in picking up cues like microexpressions, and body language?

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        1. She sees blood. And it’s not tied to actual blood on the murderer’s hands; she sees it if the murderer poisoned somebody or hired somebody else to kill. It’s tied to guilt, not physical evidence. I just have to figure out why she sees guilt in context of who she is in the story.

          It’ll come to me. The story’s in that stage where I learn something new everyday, and that one’s in the back of my mind. The Girls will send something up.

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      2. To be honest, I think you do need a lot more space for world building in a story with supernatural aspects. A lot of writers like urban fantasy which this sounds like because you can piggyback on the real world. But in science fiction or fantasy, the background is more of a character that can kill you if you’re not paying attention.

        Yes, some times (especially in some strains of scifi) it becomes a data dump which serves no purpose and a good editor cuts it. But not explaining it usually means copying either Tolkein or D&D or Buck Rogers and the story is not going to save a badly built world either.

        Look at Pride & Prejudice with Zombies. That worked because of the world building and the freshness. But there were three or four other tries by other authors that didn’t work because the world building was a one line joke. The story would have been half way decent but the world was flat so who cared?

        As for why she sees blood, that actually does have an Occam’s razor. She does not understand it so she can’t explain it. It just is. If you absolutely need an explanation, Nick probably can give her one at some point. My mother, my sister & myself can not wear a watch. Or it turns out a pedometer. It runs fast, it runs slow, it stops. Cheap watches, expensive watches – we’ve got at most a week before it stops. I don’t know why, I don’t care by this point. I just don’t buy watches anymore.

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        1. Well, I want to know why. That’s fascinating. It has to be genetic because you’ve all got it, and unless your sister is your twin, it’s not from something that happened to you all at one point in time. Now I’m going to have to go google.

          And you’re right, you do need more space for world-building. But the way you do that has a huge impact on the story. My first draft, the one I sent Lani, was pretty much people explaining to Nita why she was losing her mind. As Lani pointed out, Nita needed to go find out things for herself. So the draft I have now for the first act is about triple the original draft but covering the same time period, and I cut most of those explanations–I had to write them to tell myself the story but they didn’t belong in the book–and now Nita finds out pieces of them as she investigates a murder, which means I’m not stopping for back story, those pieces are part of the ongoing action, puzzle pieces the reader is going to latch on and put together as Nita does (those loose story threads that will all be woven in by the end). People also world-build in throw-away line, like Vinnie talking about tourists wearing baseball caps with horns on them because it’s Demon Island, which gives you every amusement park/theme vacation you’ve ever known about. I still have too much explaining going on in there, and a lot of it needs to be cut, but it’s all in answers to questions from characters, like Nick going to the historical society to find pictures of the island founders and tripping over information that changes everything.
          What I don’t think you can do is stop the story to explain the world if you’re writing third person PoV. It’s still dicey in first person PoV. If you’re writing omniscient, they have at it, but remember that you’re stopping story to explain, so it has to be such fabulous description/explanation that the reader doesn’t care the story’s stalled for the moment (I give you Terry Practchett), but even then, the reader is searching for story.

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        2. Well, that was a rabbit-hole to go down. Still couldn’t find an answer, but . . .
          Is it the same with all watches, digital, battery, and wind-up?

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          1. I went down that rabbit hole too this morning! Many people report wearing digital is better than wind-up, but still say their digital watches gain or lose time over a short time span. One person’s theory is that the gear watches are oiled, and the oil can gunk up in the cold, if the wearer is outside, but the wearer’s warmth causes the gears to work smoothly again. No real answer. My mom had that problem all her life, and it was a bizarre thing to witness!

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          2. Oh, yeah.

            It broke my heart when it was my high school graduation gift – fancy dress accessory wrist watch- but I also tried Timex battery & windup, a nicer brand when I graduated college and it was weird in business not to wear a watch (maybe a Seiko). And the longest I got was a week.

            My sister I think tried putting clear nail polish on the back because she heard that would work – but it didn’t.

            I think my mother found she could wear a watch on a chain but only outside her clothes. Not something you’re looking for when you’re twenty.

            The office handed out cute little pedometers with digital readouts about a year ago and I went through two of them in two weeks before it occured to me that since no one else was getting a “bad one” it wasn’t the pedometer.

            Now I’ll admit I haven’t spent ten grand for the nice Rolex so maybe they would work but now we just check the phone.

            The only other person I knew who couldn’t wear one had survived being hit by lightning. She was fun – because if she had a bad day at the office? She set off the shoplifting scanners at every doorway we went in & could make the ATM screen go black. No known health problems – just the tendency to make electronics go wonky.

            If one of you does find a solution down the rabbit hole, let me know. I’d like to wear a pedometer.

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          3. The thing I found most suggested was high levels of electricity or magnetism in the body. Somebody who was a nurse said she’d solved it by wearing one of those watches you pin on, which I’d prefer anyway because I don’t like things around my wrist. Was the pedometer next to your skin?

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          4. When I was a teen and young adult (back in the days when I was uber-psychic before I clamped down on it because it was uncontrollable) I used to turn off lamps and radios when I was upset. Or meditating. Must have been an electrical thing, but it was pretty freaky. No problem with watches, though.

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        3. Bridget – I used to have a Fitbit One which had a silicone sleeve clip. I’d either clip it to my waist, my bra, or put it in the tiny 5th pocket of my pants. Not sure if your force field would effect it or if it might work for you. Kohls sells them and would accept it as a return if it doesn’t work. Just an option you might consider trying.

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          1. Thanks for the thought. The Fitbit is something I’m interested in actually.

            I was carrying the pedometer in the pants pocket so it doesn’t seem to need direct skin contact to screw with it. I might try it but I do hate returning stuff that gets broken through my own agency vs. stuff that just broke.

            As I said, at some point you just say screw it, this is a thing my body does to some devices and I live with it.

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      3. I really think you need to know why Nita sees blood, but it doesn’t have to show up in the story, per se, unless it’s really important to the story. I mean, as a reader, I see that Nita sees blood on murderers’ hands, and I think, “Of course she does.” And then I make up my own reason, based on past fictional characters who saw blood on murderer’s hands.

        Of course, if I’m wrong and it becomes necessary for you to tell me the reader that it’s really for X reason, I’m going to be thrown out of the story a little bit. Possibly a little angry. Possibly very angry . . . but I don’t think you’d handle it in such a way to make me really angry.

        It can be for an extremely complicated reason (which is half the fun of writing) but you only mention it during interviews with geeky magazines that appreciate your reasoning.

        After all, Shakespeare never told us why Lady MacBeth saw damn spots. We just provided our own explanations for her hallucinations. The subtext provided all the clues we need. (I’m pretty sure Shakespeare may not have even had the vocabulary to explain why she saw spots of blood on her hands. Or maybe my explanation isn’t the same as Shakespeare’s . . . .)

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        1. I think Shakespeare knew guilt had driven her mad and she was hallucinating; she killed herself after all.
          Plus she has the “The Thane of Fife, he had a wife, where is she now?” speech. It’s pretty much laid out there.

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  12. As a reader of paranormals/urban fantasy/horror-type stuff, I would rather have no explanation that a bad one.

    “Why are you cold/can you see blood?”
    “I dunno, but so could my grandmother and her grandmother blah blah back generations 500 years.”
    Is much better than something that tries to sound mysterious but doesn’t hold up. I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon. Gypsy curse, my ass. “You will feel a compulsive need to help people to atone for your evil but if you ever feel a sense of satisfaction for doing so, you will lose all control of your bodily functions.” That’s a curse. Be happy and content, turn evil is not a curse it’s a disaster.

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    1. That was the dumbest curse in the history of curses.
      The part about making him feel guilt for his crimes, that was smart.
      But one moment of happiness making him an evil serial killer again? Who thought that was a good idea? You could hear the plot creak on that one from the beginning.
      OTOH, it gave us Angelus who was always a good time.

      And I agree, no explanation is better than bad, but no explanation is weak story-telling. In this case, because so much of the history is part of the investigation in the now of the story, even some hand-waving like “It’s been her family for generations” won’t work because the investigation looks at the generations, which brings us back to “Why?” Also, it hasn’t been in her family for generations, so there’s that. Although that idea just gave me another idea, so thank you very much.

      You know if the PREMISE of the story was that this was a hereditary power, I think that would work. In other words, if you start out by showing that this character is a witch, you don’t have to explain how she got to be a witch, she’s just a witch. This is a story about a witch, boom. But if the thing you’re trying to handwave is a specific thing that’s not common in storytelling or reality, then I think we’re back to at least WHY if not HOW.

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  13. Could a simple line along the lines of “Nita hated shaking hands with killers. She didn’t know why she saw blood on their hands, but it sure made her avoid handshakes.” work? It’s not terribly long for an explanation, but then you have all sorts of opportunities to hint that someone’s a killer by showing Nita avoiding shaking hands. Or Nick could notice that she goes out of her way not to shake hands with certain people, and ask.

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    1. Who’s thinking that? Where does that thought come from?

      It’s not Nita’s, she knows that so she wouldn’t think it.
      It’s not Mort’s, he’s known her all her life so he has no reason to think it.
      It’s not Button’s, she doesn’t know Nita that well.
      It’s not Nick’s, he doesn’t know Nita that well.
      It’s not Vinnie’s, he has no idea she doesn’t like it.

      That leaves the thought to come from the author, who is not a PoV character in this book because it’s third person limited (it if was omniscient, it’d be okay but it would still stop the story to explain, which isn’t good). So it’s authorial intrusion, breaking the suspension of disbelief to explain something to the reader from outside the story. It’s a bad thing to do even though authors do it all the time because it’s the easy thing to do.

      Short answer: This story is told in third person limited and nobody in the scene could be thinking or saying that, so nope, can’t do it.

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  14. Is Nita still having a drunken episode? Or the family dinner with Mom thing? Dysfunctional family events can bring out odd comments.

    Or Mort can be checking in with her. “you still having that handshake issue? Anything new on your research?” or something.

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    1. Why would he say that out of the blue? If she’s been doing it for years, why would he ask if she’s still doing it?

      She’s not drunk through the whole book. In the first scene she’s sobering up because she’s called in to work, but she’s not staggering.
      I agree that family events can bring out odd comments, but not things like “Are you still doing this thing you’ve been doing all your life and have no reason to change?” Unless it’s passive aggressive in an attempt to get somebody to change: “Are you still wearing t-shirts? Aren’t you a little old for that?” kind of thing, which wouldn’t work here.

      You can’t shove the info in there because you want it in there. Readers notice. It has to be an organic part of the story. The explanation of what she’s doing it: Nick sees her shake hands with Vinnie and sees Vinnie’s reaction, and when Nita leaves he says, “What’s with the handshake?” and Vinnie tells him, and that leads him to another clue to his problem. That part can’t be cut because it’s part of the plot, it’s not just dropping info in.

      Believe me, in the revision I cut a LOT of “what is this doing here?” stuff that I’ve dropped in.

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  15. Are there different types/classifications/categories of demons? And if demons are fallen angels, and angels can have some traits of god, like omniscience (depending on their classification), and one of those demons snuck through the hellgate to the island (cause it’s nice to see something new once in awhile), and met a woman, and sired a child, and so some powers passed, but not all, cause the children are more human, and less angel, and so whatever power became diluted down the generations, and it pops up in Nita as the ability to know about a person’s violent history? Cause her ancestor demon/angel was one that was sent to punish and would have to know about what people had done? But got tired of that gig and rebelled and so went to Hell where punishment isn’t a thing…? I thought I had a simple thing going here, but I’m counting the lines of typing and I think I passed simple.

    Also, as far as he’s warm, and she’s cool, well, boys usually run hot and girls usually run cool (I’m pretty sure that’s evolution making certain we seek them out for warmth and once we’re there and cuddling, well, might as well), and they’re both a little more than human, so why not have their temperatures be more intense? And there is the whole lurve aspect–her cool and his heat will balance each other when they’re finally together (awwww)!

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    1. I believe the reason women run cold has to do with children. Our veins are deeper under the skin, holding in more heat so the unborn child will stay warm in the incubator. Then after menopause things change since we won’t be carrying a child inside us any more. At least, that’s what stuck from looking into it quite a few years ago.

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        1. I run hot and my husband runs cold . . . I knew it. I’m an evolutionary mutant. The thought actually makes me feel like I’m humble-bragging (-:.

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          1. But it still works! Your spouse runs your opposite. You didn’t go for the typical male who runs hot and would (I presume) make you uncomfortable cause then it’s heat + heat

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          2. LOL, when I was a very young teen, the hottest thing I’d ever read was some reincarnation fantasy (wish I remembered the name of it) where in one of the early incarnations, the woman rescues her man from the cold, brings him into the cave and warms him up with fire, furs and her warm body. So, maybe you are right. Opposites attract?

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  16. Because she’s only started researching it recently. Although my husband’s current obsession with researching on Ancestry.com could be permeating further into my life than I thought it was.

    And he’s her brother, right? Presumably they talk to each other problems as well as chitchat about their lives. “Hey, did you see Mummy Monsters from Hell at the theater last week? Their plot hinged on someone who could tell murderers from accidental deaths just from shaking hands. You should be a getting a royalty from them! Or at least a mention in the closing credits.” And she can shut him down or not. I’m fairly close to one of my brothers and he would say something like that to me, probably out of the blue too. My other brother, nope. Not my sisters either.

    Or since she’s sobering up, she might forget and shake hands and then be pissed at herself because clearly that would be disconcerting. And possibly speed up the sobering part.

    Or since Button is so new, it can come up there (or did you already drop something in there? I don’t remember.)

    I guess I just see lots of possibles for setting it up. But I’m not looking at it from a writer’s perspective, just mine.

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    1. Yes, but your perspective is important because you’re more important than a writer, you’re a reader.

      Also, these questions make me think.

      I think it goes back to the difference between reality and fiction: Fiction has to be realistic, while reality is just full of chaos and nonsense.

      So Nita joins Mort at the crime scene where they have two dead bodies and Nita’s cranky. I don’t see him conversing in that “Hey did you see?” random kind of way that really happens in real life. He has a goal–he wants to get inside that bar–and Nita can get him in. Then skip the next scene because Nita isn’t in it (Nick and Vinnie in the bar). Third scene is Nita’s PoV confronting Nick with Mort trying to get Nick’s shirt and coat as evidence. I don’t see him saying, “Hey, did you see . . .” there, either: he’s focused on getting what he wants. Next scene is Nick on the phone with Hell in the course of which conversation he starts putting things together and asks Vinnie what was up with the handshake. Next scene is Nita, Mort, Button, and Clint talking about the shooting, and Nita tells Clint that Vinnie didn’t do it; Button says something like “I’d heard you were psychic,” and Nita says, “I’m not psychic,” and Clint says, “Yeah you are” and follows that up with a sentence as to why and then Nita drags the conversation back to the problem at hand, the shooting. But she’s not psychic.

      So I can justify all of that because people ask questions when they need to know the answer right then, because of the things that are happening in that scene, not out of curiosity.

      But as I said, answering questions like yours helps me explore the problem. Like Nita never shakes hands unless she has to because when she touches people, she feels faintly nauseated, like an inner ear thing. I think I know why, but I have to puzzle it out more.

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      1. I’m glad I’m helpful. I was thinking more that I was being a PITA. 🙂

        I think Mort would be aware of the discomfort Nita has when she shakes hands.

        Would he use that information for his own interests? Like dating? When he notices Button, does he ask if Nita’s shaken hands with her? Could he? He thinks she’s cute, if I remember rightly.

        But I don’t know what kinds of character he’s got and how that would impact or change it. I don’t know what your plans are for Button either, so that might make things worse.

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        1. Not a PITA at all. Nobody here is. Every question makes me think.

          The problem lies in the situation. Mort’s an ME, standing over one corpse, with another one fifty feet away with a big mystery attached to it. If he does anything but stick to his goal, which is to get into that bar and question Nick, it undercuts how much he wants the goal.

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  17. Okay, whacky thought, but since Nita’s not quite human, could there be something in her vision that lets her actually see where the blood touched the killer? Along the lines of the special lights the police use to sweep a room in order to see the blood residue that killers have tried to clean up? Or even whackier, maybe there’s some kind of soul-residue and when you murder someone, it splatters you like ectoplasm, and that’s what Nita’s not-quite-human eyes pick up. Not sure that’s worth anything, but maybe it will spur another idea?

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    1. The way I have it now, even if there was no blood in the actual death, she sees it on the hand. Think Lady Macbeth. So whatever actually happened is irrelevant, it’s who’s responsible. Plus for some reason I gave it a shelf life, although that might go.

      Still thinking. Wasting time mostly. Must go work shortly.

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      1. Creative thought often looks like wasting time. Of course, so does wasting time. Tricky thing, really.

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  18. “Why would a demon risk everything to open an illegal hellgate onto a cold, rocky island in the middle of nowhere?”

    Maybe you answered your own question

    “Nick’s going to become alive again, to actually having a human body so that when he gets shot again, this time he bleeds”

    The demon want the devil to become human to become vulnerable, maybe it’s in the small print of a contract or a loophole that can lead to a takeover. At a time at a certain place, when the stars are in alignment etc

    As for Nita, maybe she survived a Reaper, because of who she is, she won’t remember, but it changed her, took her warmth, since Reapers deal with death, she can see those who have caused it.

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    1. My favorite suggestions so far! Both of them are simple and feel organic to the story (well, at least what I understand of the story so far) I especially love the idea of a reaper stealing her warmth and leaving behind the ability to see those who caused death.

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      1. So reapers are like death?
        There aren’t any in this story.
        But you guys should write that one.

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        1. I thought you watched Supernatural or I would have added an explanation, Reapers serve death, they come at the end of a person’s life and escort their soul to the final destination. Sometimes they can be enslaved to do someone’s bidding which affects the balance, as a result when they get free, it is very bad news for the person who enslaved them.

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          1. I haven’t watched Supernatural since the second season. No reason why, just wandered off. Meant to catch up, but you know how that is.
            I have see all of Dead Like Me which is brilliant, so like that?
            Because nope, this book doesn’t have those. That’s what equilibrium is for.

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  19. There’s a biblical quote about God seeing the ‘stain of guilt/iniquity’. Could there be a more overt religious angle here that you could bend in service of the story? (You are writing about the devil, after all).
    Have always been fascinated by The Tzadikim Nistarim – 36 righteous human beings who are supposed to live on earth – they apparently keep God from zapping us into nothing because they remind Him what’s decent about humanity. They don’t know they’re righteous. If even one of them is missing, it’s supposed to be curtains for humanity. There isn’t a standard definition for righteous though – it doesn’t have to mean ‘good’. What if Nita is ‘righteous’? And that somehow translates into an ability to see ‘the stain of guilt/iniquity’.

    More maunderings: Nita’s the anti-Nick: she’s cold and he’s hot. He gets hot because he is maintaining an illusion so she is cold because nothing about her is an illusion?
    A human who can see ‘odd’ stuff would be considered psychic and you don’t want her to be considered psychic so maybe she isn’t human? Can you be a demon and not know it? He could be warming because he’s coming back to life – maybe she is cooling because she is dying or is actually dead? A righteous one dying would mean humanity is in trouble – need that critical mass of 36. Maybe her death would unlock the hell gate?
    If she’s actually dead but somehow in a body (not hers?) that means the real Nita is in a grave somewhere, rotting. She wouldn’t know she is dead though (sorta Sixth Sense-ish).
    BTW, I love hearing how you create your stories. Just fascinating.

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    1. Clearly I have to google Tzadikim Nistarum, although probably not for this book. I’ve never heard of them, must know more.

      It’s not that I don’t want her to be psychic, SHE doesn’t want to be psychic. I’m just going with the flow.

      The cold/hot thing is the Macbeth cross: He’ll cool off and she’ll get warmer and they’ll cross at the midpoint. They’ll equilibriate in the end, it’s a romance novel, but first they’ll cross.

      Oh, and I’m glad this isn’t boring or annoying. I feel like I spend all my time saying, “No, not that,” but it’s all useful because it makes me think.

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      1. This happens with cats too, who apparently have 2 uteruses. The female cat enters “heat” and will let any male cat mate with her despite male cats having a barbed penis which rakes the vagina on its way out.

        So, if you succumb and give us hellcat kittens, they could have different fathers. 🙀

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  20. You could think of murder as stealing a life, blood is the essence of life, so when the essence is stolen it would brand the murder/thief hands. You could say the brand/stain is in the ultraviolet range so not usually seen by the human eye, but Nita could have some abnormality of her retinas that function like a black light, so the stains would appear phosphorescent.

    Still would be awesome to have hellkittens.

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  21. I want to suggest that you check out the first episode of Girl Who Sees Smells (not a brilliant title, I know). I haven’t seen it, but it seems to tackle a bit of the same dilemma. The girl sees smells and uses them to solve crimes. I’ve read that the show has some flaws, but that the part about her seeing scents is definitely one of things it does well. Just a thought.

    And since I am on the recommending bandwagon (again, I know – It’s just that I think they might be useful as you are researching)…here are others you might like:

    Arang and the Magistrate (Only because it has some similar elements to your current Work/not work in progress). There are Grim Reapers, Kings of Heaven and Hell, and demons. She’s a ghost pursued by the Grim Reaper; he’s a magistrate (sort of a sheriff/investigator) searching for his mother. He sees her wearing his mother’s hairpin, so helps her fight off the Grim Reaper and agrees to help her uncover the mystery of her death in return for information about his mom. The end gets a bit draggy, and it isn’t my all-time fav, but it is entertaining and has a perspective that you might enjoy. Warning: The kings of Heaven and Hell are over-the-top.

    Also, after reading your brilliant excerpt from You Again, I couldn’t help but think (again) that you might like Master’s Sun. It’s such a fun set-up. She sees ghosts, but touching him makes them disappear. The show balances quirky and absurd against deep truths, and the writers deal with her ghostly world so beautifully.

    Another favorite is My Girlfriend is a Gumiho. A Gumiho is a mythical shape-shifting fox with nine tails. The writers gave her a sexy-fun spin, and they made the arrogant goofball into one of my all-time favorite heroes. I loved the way they played with themes of balance and halfway points. The side characters aren’t as compelling, but they get the main romance completely right.

    And since I’m listing favorites, you might like the alien/superhero classic, My Love From Another Star. It’s sooooooo good. I love the heroine, and even though the bad-guy is Lex Luther style over-the-top, I think it is perfect.

    I haven’t seen Signal, but it’s supposed to be wonderful. It’s about characters from different times that affect each other’s reality. And if you want a sci-fi/historical mash-up, Joseon X-Files is supposed to be good (just warning about bathroom humor in the first episode).

    Anyway, just some suggestions in case you want to see what the East is offering in the way of supernatural television. When I read these posts, I always think that you might it interesting.

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    1. I have to be really careful not to watch anything supernatural while I’m writing this. I can’t get the story in my head confused while it’s still forming itself. Once I have a first draft, then I can watch anything, but for right now, no supernatural for me. Well, except for Grimm. That’s just monsters.

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  22. How about the poor lady who discovered she wasn’t the genetic mother of her children? She applied for some sort of state aid for her kids and the state did tests and accused her of, in the least, welfare fraud and the worst, kidnapping. Her doctor swore her caught the kids when they were born and treated them ever since and knew to whom they belonged. They did, I think, both a cervical and a cheek swab and they came back sisters. Her reproductive organs belonged to an absorbed fraternal twin, so her kids had her sister’s DNA. Hard way to find out you are a Chimera.

    Is the guilt Nita sees the emotion guilt or just a responsibility? Would she see blood on someone who just felt responsible for a death?

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    1. Whoa. Whoa. That’s gotta be . . . . I mean, I knew about superfecundation (but not with the fun, polysyllabic name), but to find out you are a twin — two genetically different people in one body — whoa. I’m already spinning stories about brain hemispheres belonging to two different people . . . .

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  23. LOL, before I read through the other comments, I had to scroll down and say, I bet there are a lot of scientists in hell! I bet they have to study all this kind of stuff for their sins. I can just see some guy saying, “But, my work on Earth was all in lactobiology.” “Tough-tootie, you’re doing worms here.” Well, if I ever get back to a world where hell is a big part of the geography, I’ll definitely think about the scientists.

    I love that your animals are all properly classified, and that you’ve rearranged the letters in psychic to make it next-door-neighbors to “physics”. What fun!

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  24. My theory is that (in reality) you don’t actually know that what you see in your colour spectrum is different to someone else’s because if you have been told all your life that x colour is green, then the fact that everyone else would say that x colour is purple isn’t going to register, you’re still going to call it green.

    I was thinking that Nita’s genetics are slightly different, and that she can see a wider spectrum of colours/ infrared/ something than anyone else.

    Anyone who has murdered gets a stain on their hand, but she’s the only one who can see it because of the wider spectrum of her vision.

    How this ties into the need to touch people to see it I have no idea 🙂

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  25. You are so right about Terry Pratchett being able to digress in ways that would condemn lesser writers to the guillotine or at least the remainder bin.

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  26. What if the stains are something like stains on a person’s soul/aura/essence and when she touches them she causes them to be visible because she can see in a wider spectrum like Philby said. She causes the reaction because she’s some kind of not-entirely-human litmus paper.

    I’m curious about the limits of her power. Who flags, who doesn’t and does it depend on how/why the death occurred. Would Agnes flag because she whacked the kid with her frying pan and he died as a result even though it was both self defence and an accident? Soldiers in combat or military snipers? Do you need remorse or is it just the act of ending a life?

    These are the things that keep me up at night.

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    1. I figure these are the things the Girls will send up later. Trust the Girls.

      The problem with the litmus paper thing, although it’s a good explanation, is that it doesn’t have anything to do with the established supernatural world.
      There are demons and a Devil living in a parallel world; that a major part of the premise.
      Nita can see blood on the hands of people who have caused another’s death. That’s supernatural, so I have two choices: make it part of the already established supernatural world or create another form of supernatural background just for her.
      Occam’s Razor: her power comes from the already established world, not from eyesight that needs to be explained (unless all demons have that power which they don’t) but from something that is simple and makes sense in the context.

      I have faith the Girls will send it up as I work through this. They’re doing overtime work on this one.

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    2. Thanks Office Wench Cherry. Now, I’m going to be staying up with you wondering these things. Sigh.

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  27. Could it simply be a part of the parallel world that you have established? Murder most foul leaves a mark in both worlds (because of the association between evil deeds and hell), and when Nita touches someone who has committed murder, the membrane between the worlds shifts slightly and she can see the mark?

    Doesn’t answer why her, and that may not fit with your version of hell. And I know the girls will send up the answer that you need when they are ready. But couldn’t help asking anyway, just in case the question helps!

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  28. All of this has probably already been asked or said, and my habit of reading your posts every few days makes it hard to keep up with the conversation in the comments… so ignore if I’m repeating.

    Re: why/how he turns human/alive again: does he lose his devil powers when he is alive? Can he travel to Hell if he’s alive? Can he still hold the office of “Devil/Satan” if he’s alive? The answers to these could speak to who might be motivated to change his status and what they would accomplish by doing so.

    Re: why on the island: ley lines? Magical places? History? Superstition/ritual significance? Tethers between realms? Weak barriers? These are all reasons that have been given in other books for specific magical locations. Depending on who Mr. Lemon or the demon who is making the Hellgate there is, could also be of personal significance – from his/her life before Hell??

    Re: Hot/Cold: Possibly look at the laws of thermodynamics (I believe the second law of Thermodynamics is Entropy). This may be part of why you were looking at equilibrium?? Temperature is an indication of energy – instead of heat or kinetic, maybe this is thaumic (magic) energy?? You were thinking originally about her being a sort of Susan/Death’s Granddaughter type of person, which would make these traits genetic. Maybe you should look at epi-genetics – how your DNA is changed by events in your life. She and her brother could have been altered by something that happened when they were young that gave them these strange characteristics?? If they are natives of the island, it could be tied in with the reason it’s a perfect place for a hellgate.

    Hope these thoughts help to shake something loose. I love reading about your process. I was also inspired to write something involving traditional/biblical bad guys as hero(ine) in a romance plot, so everything you are writing is very relatable.

    Best,
    Kathy

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