Rebooting a Novella

We’ve got miserable weather coming in (although not as bad as the midwest, sorry about that, Midwest) so I am counting my blessings. The big one is that Milton is just old, not dying, and his arthritis is giving him hell, so new meds and a snooze on the electric blanket are fixing him right up. With that worry off my mind, it’s time to get back to work. I’m rebooting a novella I began a couple of years ago that has Alice at fourteen and Southie meeting Alice’s art teacher. I only have the first five scenes, and I’m not feeling the heroine, and there are some major plot holes already, but that’s par for my course. My beginnings are always 747s on icy runways: I know exactly where I want to go, I pick up speed, and then I slide sideways into where I’m going to end up. Exciting.

So here’s the beginning of the rebooting process.

First the heroine. I don’t like the one I’ve got, so back to the drawing board. She’s frazzled, of course, and she’s dealing with Alice and then Southie shows up. Southie, much as I love him, long ago decided that ambition could be left to his brother and mother and so he slouches through life, observing, helping out where needed, generally enjoying whatever comes his way, fixing it if it’s not enjoyable. So his opposite number would be somebody well-organized, Type A, ambitious, driving . . . kill me now. That’s not somebody I’d even want to spend a novella with. So what if he meets the female Southie? They can’t both be laidback, nothing would ever get done. Unless Southie has to step up for a change. North and Annie are out of town, so he can’t suggest them. I like this. Love makes Southie break a sweat. And since the heroine won’t be impressed by a slacker yuppie, he’ll have to work for her. I must cogitate on this, but I like it.

Drawback: the heroine cannot be somebody who waits to be rescued. Plus she’s a teacher, so she’s going to be proactive in controlling her environment. But I can see her being an observer; she’s an art teacher (write what you know). And she’d be there to help Alice, certainly, her student, and I can see that as a general help-anybody-who-needs-it kind of thing that would lead her to help Marilee, too. Good teachers are like that, plus they pay attention so that if something they’re doing isn’t working for a student, they can shift gears. I’m liking this woman. I think her name is Mackie, short for Mackenzie. (I went through a lot of names to get that, so don’t judge me.)

Southie I don’t have to worry about. I already know him and Alice, so that’s two more characters taken care of. Marilee, the ghost, I know, since she’s not complex, although I might have to change her name since it’s a Ma- name and so is Mackie. I’m getting an idea of the two principals (remember the Mayor from Buffy? I’m using him as a placeholder for one). Julie, the guidance counselor and best friend, will fill in herself since she’s Mackie’s foil. Mackie’s mother is already fun. Lydia and Isolde I know from Maybe This Time. I think I’m good on the cast.

Which brings us to the plot. Since I already know this is a cold case murder mystery, the external plot is going to end when the murderer goes down for a crime, and the romance plot will end when Southie and Mackie do something serious about romance. So all I need to do is get my five turning points:

Inciting Incident (Stable World disrupted): Alice sees a ghost and Mackie has to deal with her.
First Turning Point: Things get worse: Mackie sees the ghost, has to deal with supernatural now.
Midpoint, Point of No Return: Mackie decides to go after the murderer.
Crisis: Mackie gets arrested?
Climax: Mackie brings down the murderer.

And then there’s the romance which has to be tied to the external plot.

Inciting Incident (Stable World disrupted): Alice sees a ghost and Mackie calls in a parent conference; Southie shows up.
First Turning Point: Things get worse: Mackie sees the ghost, has to deal with supernatural now, calls Southie for help.
Midpoint, Point of No Return: Mackie decides to go after the murderer, enlists Southie to help.
Crisis: Mackie gets arrested, Southie bails her out and hides her.
Climax: Mackie brings down the murderer with Southie, Southie does something that evokes permanence in their relationship, god knows what.

Of course the fun part about writing a novella is that the space in between each of those points is about seven thousand words, so this things will move swiftly. In theory. Given my propensity to overwrite, this could end up The Novella That Ate Chicago.

But at least I have a plan.

(Count down now to slide off runway . . .)

105 thoughts on “Rebooting a Novella

  1. Can relate somewhat. One of my WIPs is a novella that relates to my series so also includes recurring characters. But it’s a prequel so readers see the characters at a different time in their lives. I don’t have your heroine challenge, though, because my MC is the same.

    As a reader, I’m already interested in your Alice & Southie novella, even without knowing the new heroine. Alice & Southie are great characters and will be fun to read more about. But since I’m also partial to teachers, am intrigued by the new heroine, too. Plus, you know, fun & mystery. Looking forward to it:)

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      1. Maybe you could call her “Kenzie” (vs Mackie) and then you wouldn’t have too many “M” names? (Although you could add one annoying person into the mix –her boss the Principal maybe, since she’s an art teacher– who always gets her back up by calling her “Mac”, instead, just to irritate her?) 😉

        Or, if you really wanted to sum up her very sensible and practical (unruffled, unflappable, unflinching, Mary Poppins-ish) nature through her name, the quintessential name to express those qualities (Austen, Bronte heroine, Rizzoli, Tarzan’s flame, Prime Suspect detective Timoney, you name it) is JANE. The name itself inspires confidence.

        “Jane” can do anything. Always. She simply Macgyvers* things (another M word!) as need be, and without a moment’s hesitation.

        (* I love that this has become a verb now! …especially as my entire life seems to be an unbroken series of constant Macgyvering(s)!) 😉

        5+
        1. Listen, some of us have been battling being seen as ‘sensible’ for decades (I was Sensible Jane in the Girl Guides, for goodness sake). Also, Plain Jane. I like my name, but even I have made assumptions about myself because of it.

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          1. I like it, but then I had two aunts named Jane. Jane kicks ass, IMHO. But I’ve used her already so nope.

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          2. I jettisoned my first given name when I moved to California because it had so many tiresome pop-culture connotations.

            Using my ‘middle’ name (Alexandra) instead since age 30 has been a) freeing b) satisfying plus it sounds way cool when someone who speaks Spanish says it out loud.

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        2. Argh. I read a blog post or article or something some time last year about calling characters Jane. I can’t find it now though – the gist was that Jane is very often (they had stats) used as name to denote a placeholder female character. Of course, now I can’t find where I read it…

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  2. Squee! This is going to be fun. *Happy chair dance*

    Any updates from Jen about Nita? Does she like it?

    8+
    1. No updates from anybody in NYC. When you’re ten years past your deadline, nobody’s in a big rush to get back to you (g).

      20+
  3. This is going to be GOOD.
    Southie slept with a ghost so I can see him having an interesting reaction to one. Plus by now he’s been living next door to two for a decade.

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  4. You have no idea (…well, I think not, anyway) how reassuring it is to know that your writing process is a gigantic mess that produces such amazing results.

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      1. Hey, Ms. Giant Mess, don’t you already have a Mackenzie? Art Teacher? Crazy for You?

        Or was that some other author?

        Anyway, I like Elizabeth, provided nobody calls her El, Elly, Elsy, Beth, Betty, Bets, Liza, Eliza, or Margaret. Yes, that just leaves “ZA”. Or maybe Izzy.

        Or maybe her *middle* name is Mackenzie and she has an aversion to her first name. I have a sis-in-law named Frances Marguerite, who never uses Frances for anything unless there’s a legal requirement. Even her driver’s license says “F. Marguerite.” (It all goes back to teasing about “Francis the Talking Mule.” Yes, we’re that old.)

        0
          1. Her students called her McKenzie though. That was always a tiny thing that knocked me out of story, calling a teacher by their last name without a Miss, Ms or Mrs.

            2+
  5. Oh, this seems so nicely simple and fun with characters I like and – so far – a straightforward story line. Not intensely wrought, doesn’t make my brain spin — although those are also qualities into which I can get. You are a writer of facets, you.

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  6. Good news, if you slide in to novel territory, you’ll probably be on the smaller side, being an extended novella, so less to cut! ;D

    I can’t wait!

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  7. The opposite of laid-back might be anxious, not driven. Not a Type A personality, but a worrier, the person who sees everything that can go wrong in every situation. And then the laid-back person brings relaxation into her life, the ability to take a deep breath and find the roses instead of focusing on the thorns.

    6+
    1. I don’t think a worrier could survive as an art teacher. Speaking from (long ago) experience, you need to roll with a lot of punches, paint spills, x-acto-blade-accidentally-slashed flesh, and any number of other disasters to be an art teacher. I cannot count all the times I said, “It’s paint, not blood, clean it up” after somebody dumped a jar paint all over everything (including in the back of my car once). Worst injury: One of my aides cut off the end of this finger on the paper cutter. Blood sprayed over the wall. The old “it’s paint, not blood” did not work there. (Rich Estes, if you’re out there, how’s that finger?)

      I think she’d be practical, the kind who’d count the knives and scissors at the end of the day to make sure she hadn’t accidentally armed anybody, but I don’t think she’d worry about it.

      Thanks for suggesting that, it helped me see her more clearly.

      14+
      1. She sounds like a roll with the punches person, which is not exactly the same as a laid back I don’t care person.
        We have developed a family motto which might be hers: “If you skip the panic and the blame, you can get a lot done.”
        Sounds like its yours also, for that matter.

        10+
        1. Family motto: Did anyone die? No. We are good.

          After youngest son had a couple of vehicle accidents, two with the same vehicle within two months and one with the big door to the shop building. Now motto for pretty much anything.

          4+
          1. My Mom’s response to almost every injury presented to her was “Run some cold water on it.” She explained it to me when I was in my late 20s along the lines of “it bought me some time to take a breath, figure out what to do and then do it” Head injuries got a cold wash cloth on them, probably for the same reason. Mom always seemed unflappable when I was a kid.

            5+
        2. Our family motto is “For garlic and gin!” And when we’re feeling particularly twitchy, our war cry is “Haggis!” It’s a good word, and shouting it for no apparent reason just makes you feel better about whatever’s coming down on you.

          Dad always said his family motto growing up was “Blood is thicker than bullshit” which makes perfect sense for his crazy-arse family…

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        1. The worst one I remember happened when I asked a question and a kid with an x-acto in his hand raised it just as somebody reached across him for something. There was blood.

          5+
          1. I’ve still got the scar down the side of my finger where the scalpel slipped when I was cutting something in graphics class. And on another occasion, I heard a thunk on the back of my chair, looked around, and found a scalpel on the floor behind me and a mark on my chair about an inch from the top. Graphics was a jungle.

            6+
          2. I have a one inch triangular burn scar because I did not bring long gauntlet-type leather gloves on the day I got to help pour the cauldron of melted bronze. When I felt the skin on my wrist above the edge of the glove start to burn from the heat coming off the bronze, I could not put it down because once you started the cauldron tilting over there was no way to stop it without spilling it. And if you spilled it there was searingly hot molten bronze ricocheting all over and not all the students were wearing heavy work shoes that could stand up to molten bronze. And you ruined a lot of sculptures. I got an A for not letting my stupidity ruin the pour. And a trip to first aid.

            Plus my sculpture turned out just fine.

            8+
      2. On occasion these holidays, I have needed to get an urgent bit of work done (I work from home). The line I use for the kids (aged 9 and 10) is if it’s not blood or fire, I don’t want to know. This is definitely not best-in-class parenting, but actually, it mostly works.

        5+
        1. 🙂 LOL – that was essentially the line from my mother when I was a kid, until the day that my brother and I didn’t tell her about the snake in the house.

          Then it changed to include snakes.

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      3. I like the idea of pragmatic and practical rather than a control freak. Level headed and capable.

        Southie has to work to impress her as she is not fazed easily.

        3+
      4. I don’t see Southie as a slacker so much as incredibly energy efficient. Maybe she isn’t? She gets stuff done but can spin her wheels with the effort? Then they can bring something useful to each other. She knows when it’s right to do things. He makes things happen in the easiest way possible.

        1+
      5. Someone like The Wolf in pulp fiction (or the kind of teacher that Roland Pryzbylewski evolves into on The Wire)?
        A seemingly laid back person who has been in their particular game long enough to have a sixth sense for when they are going to have to apply effort next?

        0
        1. We didn’t know what had happened. Rich screamed and ran out of the room, and I thought he was clowning around and yelled at him.
          Then I saw the blood.

          0
  8. Remember back when I was um… a bit stuck on You Again? That feeling isn’t as firm as it was then. I guess KonMarie works on many levels, or maybe it’s the good drugs.

    Whoop whoop, Jenny. I’m glad the girls are speaking to you. At least when you slide off the runway, your plane transforms into the vehicle you didn’t need! 😉

    Keep warm, cold weather people. Keep cool, warm weather people. Mwah.

    4+
    1. Argh. “DID” need. I blame the sinus meds. Guess who got the start-of-school upper respiratory infection? At least there’s codeine which I’m allowed to have.

      3+
  9. I’m so glad for you and Milton. When I was much much younger, I remember my gran saying something along the lines of “if it works, it hurts” and I thought that’s cute. Not so much these days.

    Good luck with Southie and heroine tbd. I’m looking forward to the process and the end result.

    4+
  10. Oh, this is fun! Made me pull out “Maybe This Time” last night.

    Hey, what if the crisis is the murderer coming after Mackie?

    Looking forward to the slide.

    5+
  11. A nitpick regarding the name, how did Mackenzie get her name? Is she from a family that gives kids the mother’s birth last name as a first name? Names that are unusual for a character’s age and location are noticeable.
    Andie’s and North’s names made sense with their mothers.

    I like the idea of Southie parenting Alice. Teenage Alice. Heh.

    4+
    1. Her mother is Diane Mackenzie-Martin. She’s the kind of person who would then name her daughter Mackenzie Martin.

      9+
      1. I figured you had a reason or retcon for the name. It totally works. Mackie kind of reminds me of Cokie, as in Cokie Roberts. It has the same bounce.

        2+
      2. I’ve just reread ‘Crazy For You’, and the heroine’s pupils call her Mackenzie. (She’s Quinn to everyone else, of course.)

        2+
          1. Yes, but it’s a great name. And the two we know are both great guys. (And I have high hopes for the Devil’s fixer.) ❤

            2+
    2. I look at kindergarten classes for current names. In our small town, several Mackenzies up and down the grades. But then — California. Def a name, though.

      1+
      1. Myself, I wouldn’t like a nickname like “Mackie” for MacKenzie. I’d probably shorten it to “Zie” and go with that. Mackie lends itself to way too many silly taunting rhymes — wacky, hacky sacky, tacky etc. etc.

        3+
      2. Mackenzie as a girl’s name makes the top 1000 baby names in 1976 at #837, according to the SSA stats. (The stats use each individual spelling, btw) Then increased in popularity. It was #40 in 2001 and was #99 in 2017. Mackenzies tend to be younger.

        Actor Mackenzie Phillips started her career in the early 70’s and was pretty famous.

        (A lot of authors/writers don’t worry about names fitting into the culture and society that the characters live in. Grey’s Anatomy characters often had popular baby names on adults a generation older. And I remember a Madison on a show who had to have been born before the movie Splash made the name common. It can pull a reader out of the story.)

        4+
        1. Nicknames often seem to form around the stressed syllable(s) of the name, which would be “-ken-” in this case. The stressed sylable and vowel of the nickname is the same as the stressed syllable and vowel of the name. (The schwa vowel in the unstressed “Mac-” of Mackenzie is not the same as the short “a” vowel of Mackie.) So Kenz, Kenzie, Kenzo, etc. would follow this pattern.

          Of course exceptions abound: Topher, Greta, Beth. Especially in the case of Mac-/Mc- names which always have Mac/Mack (or Mackie) as a possible nickname.

          Not a comment/suggestion for your character, just an onservation. I find this stuff interesting.

          2+
  12. Yay! I read the parent-teacher conference scene a few years ago (after reading Maybe This Time) and loved it, especially meeting teenage Alice. And seeing Southie again. I was hoping this was where you’d wind up.

    Am I remembering correctly that Nita started out as a novella, too?

    5+
  13. Can Mackenzie have a dog? I can see Southie trying to bribe the dog with different dog treats. I could see Southie wanting to have a dog when he was younger but don’t think Lydia would have agreed.

    2+
    1. She lives in an apartment, so I’m thinking no.
      Usually the dog just shows up as I write. No dog has shown up.

      4+
          1. THERE IS NO DOG.

            There’s a dog in You Again. You’ll all just have to be content with that. It’s an ancient beagle named Plum.

            5+
    2. How about a cat? I’d think a ghost cat but ghost cats are far too sad a thought, so nope. A live purring cat that claws the murderer. You must be keen to arc another cat, right?

      2+
      1. No.
        Listen, animals are difficult to write. They’re like kids, they’ll devolve into cuteness if you’re not careful and that’s death. If they don’t show up an demand to be in the story, I don’t put them in. (Yes, ST, unless they put one on the damn cover. Argh.)

        4+
  14. Maybe the dead woman had a dog who is now in the pound and Southie breaks the dog out. Dogs make everything better.

    4+
    1. No! Too much like Crazy for You. Quinn Mackenzie, art teacher, adopts a dog her crazy boyfriend doesn’t want…

      3+
  15. Damn. This makes me want to work on my own stuff, not this irritating Ghostwriting gig. Poo. Stoopid electric bill. I have to pay it or my computer will quit running.

    Catch 22.

    I find it very interesting that reading your turning points could spark something in my brain, Jenny. It’s not like I haven’t seen turning points before!

    7+
      1. Your turning points workshop at RWA many years ago literally made my career. (Well, at least it made my fiction stop sucking so I could sell it.) Thank you again.

        8+
  16. What if McKenzie is both a bit laid back AND a bit driven and ambitious.

    Organized and professional with her job – but not intent to get ahead and become principal, etc.

    Laid back with most of her private life – but bananas driven about her private passion (art? Kid advocacy? The perfect omelet? Could be anything)

    Southie keeps thinking he has found one type of person and then …

    3+
  17. If this is the novella that ate Chicago, I hope it likes ice cream, because, damn, is it going to be cold tomorrow.

    Safe and warm wishes to all my fellow Midwesterners.

    9+
    1. I know. I’m giggling at work over them. Takes my mind off the cold.

      I really like Alice so I’m good with wherever this goes.

      4+

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