Banter Is Not Story

A famous screenwriting guru once said that every scene had to have conflict or be funny.  I threw his book against the wall.  I don’t think being funny is enough of a justification for a scene in the movies, but I know it’s not enough for a novel because while moviegoers watch, novel readers participate.  You can be a passive watcher, but you can’t be a passive reader.  And that means that at a subconscious level, a good reader is going to try to make that scene fit into the puzzle of the story.  I think good readers can keep a lot of plates spinning in a plot as they read through, but if there are still plates spinning at the end, they’re going to feel unsatisfied.  So every scene, in my humble opinion, must be crucial to the story, must fit into the plot arc and character arc, and must stop spinning at the end, must finish the puzzle.  Anything that doesn’t fit is going to be a broken plate, an extra puzzle piece.  That’s bad.

In my discovery drafts, I write anything, but in the rewrites, I look at a scene and ask, “How does this move the plot, develop character, deepen theme, escalate the tension?”  Sometimes a scene doesn’t do any of those things but I don’t cut it because it feels like it might become something, because I feel it’s important in a way I just haven’t seen yet.  Those often get cut in the end anyway, but sometimes they turn out to be the softball scene in Welcome to Temptation, that started off as snappy patter and turned into Phin making Sophie officially his girlfriend in front of the whole town.  It arced the relationships and deepened the hatred that the antagonist had for Sophie, spurring her to up her attacks.  It pushed into the open the conflict between Phin and his mother.  And it finished the Dillie/Sophie subplot; Dillie chose Sophie as her new mother before Phin did.  Oh, and it underscored the mother theme.  It didn’t do all of that in the first pass because I was just getting the words on paper, but by the time the rewrite was done, it was pulling its weight and multi-tasking like crazy.

Which brings us to banter, the “funny” justification for a scene.  Banter is like sugar, it makes the plot go down easier.  But also like sugar, if that’s all there is and there’s too much of it, it can smother the taste of the more important stuff.  (A little sugar in a lot of tomato sauce is piquant; a lot of sugar in a little tomato is a mess.)  I have a particular problem with this because I love dialogue; if I had my choice I’d write radio plays.  So my first drafts are always dialogue heavy, sometimes just dialogue.  The problem with dialogue is that it’s often just people chatting.  It might be clever dialogue, but unless it’s doing something, it’s just chat.  That becomes filler, and if you’ve constructed a good plot and then the reader hits filler, she’s going to skim that looking for plot.  It’s similar to the problem with sex scenes; if there’s no plot there, it doesn’t matter how funny/sexy/well-written something is, the reader is trying to put the plot puzzle together, make every piece fit, and this thing doesn’t.

So when I hit a scene like the marriage discussion scene which popped up after another discovery draft scene in which big things did happen, I look to see what’s in there (nothing important) and if any of the chat could mean something I just haven’t seen yet (what’s this whole marriage thing about?).  I wrote this scene because the one before had huge implications and then everybody left Nick and Nita alone in the apartment with breakfast and I knew I wanted a breakfast scene.  Momentum carried me there, not story.  

To decide if I want to keep it, I look at scene basics.  It’s Nita vs Nick because it’s in Nita’s PoV and there are only two people.  So what’s the conflict?  There isn’t any.  They do discuss solving Nita’s cash flow/job insecurity with marriage, but they don’t struggle over it.  Nita isn’t against it and Nick isn’t for it, they’re just explaining things to each other so they can understand the situation.  That’s actually a good thing for a relationship plot, they talk to each other and listen, but that also happens in just about every scene they’re together in for the rest of the book, so this scene can’t rest on that.    

Okay, how do the characters change?  They don’t.  Nick is changing, but it’s not really demonstrated in this scene.  I can up the emotional content, but the scene that really nails Nick’s change comes right after this one, so this isn’t needed. And Nita’s changing, too, but the scene before this shows that because she wakes up after her day of traumatic new knowledge and says, “Okay, this is the new normal.”  The previous scene makes that clear.  This one just sort of continues it.  It’s an empty scene between two strong ones.  I don’t need it.  

Fine, how does this move plot?  Uh, it doesn’t.  If they decide to get married, it would do that, but that’s all it would do.  I think the problem is that I haven’t set up that Nita has money troubles because she doesn’t; she’s not rich by any means but she has a job and she lives within her salary.  The worry is that she’ll lose her job, and that’s foreshadowed by Button’s notebook, but it’s not something she’s truly worried about.  Marriage is a solution to a problem she really doesn’t have.  And I don’t see how making it a problem adds to the rest of the story.   It doesn’t make sense: she’s a good cop, people on the island like her, her dad’s the mayor, there’s no reason to fire her.  She’s going to give the department a reason to fire her shortly, but at the time of this scene, it’s just not a problem.  So the whole marriage conversation is a solution in search of a problem.  Meanwhile, there’s actual plot going on around it that needs the story real estate this is taking up.  A scene has to earn its place in a story.  This scene is freeloading.

Snappy patter is not story.  It’s like sugar in tomato sauce, salt on french fries, it adds a lot, but if that’s all there is, it’s not only not satisfying, it’s actively off-putting, ruining what it’s supposed to enhance.  Read in just one scene, empty banter is fun.  Read in conjunction with a hundred thousand words of story, it’s a waste of a reader’s time.  

70 thoughts on “Banter Is Not Story

  1. So it sounds like, then, this conversation should be had after Nita “gives the department a reason to fire her.”

    Otherwise, there needs to be weight given to marriage itself beyond financial practicality. Either world-building weight, in which there is a supernatural power to it, or character weight, in which marriage means or doesn’t mean something to these characters, . Basically, there needs to be a third party that also weighs in with their opinion on marriage (or revealing the truth about it, in contrast to Nick and Nita’s blase take). That, or it has to be a running thread, a topic revisited as one or the other’s opinion changes as their arc continues.

    1. I think it’s the first one; if Nita’s fired, then she has a problem to be solved and this would be a solution.
      Actually, she’s going in to work next and she’s going to be threatened with being fired; if she tells Nick that, he might go get the license later that day. It’s getting the license in time that’s the problem. I can’t figure out if he has to get the license on Wednesday or Thursday to get married Saturday. Is it three days including the wedding day?

      ETA: Never mind. He’d have to get it on Wednesday. Bad things are going to happen to him Thursday.

      ETA Again: Maybe I can move those bad things to Friday. Must get out the graph paper and start to diagram.

      1. Marriages are a local function subject to state law
        Maybe state law permits expedition
        Maybe highest ranking local official (= mayor = father) can expedite or can push steps in bureaucratic timeline, which may operate as the maximum not minimum number of days for gov’t performance

      2. Maybe another advantage, or problem for added urgency so they hotfoot it to the registrar

        The almost Devil marrying Satan’s daughter, does that consolidate his position more, gain him allies in hell, neutralise some threat, maybe some ancient small print. Keep both their fathers happy with his honourable intentions. Marry her to stop some kind of arranged hellbound marriage/residency/duty that he can take her place for if they are married.

        Also they can’t testify against each other or maybe it will get them access to something, some artifact.

        1. Nope on marrying Satan’s daughter since Satan’s never met her and probably wouldn’t dote anyway. The problem with adding in a reason for the marriage is that this plot is already stuffed to the gills with five different groups working behind the scenes, so stuffing in more thing to justify a marriage I don’t really need is not a good idea. Again, it’s a solution in search of a problem, and Nita already has problems enough.

  2. Funny you bring up radio plays. Ever listen to the Lux Radio Theatre podcasts? They’re old but fun, and I find it fascinating to see how they turn movies into radio plays–what stays, what gets cut, etc. Especially since I knew lots of them as films first. Also interesting how they use sound to get things across as well as dialogue. Plus, there’s just something extra in listening to live shows recorded with audiences.

    But yes, think you’d be fab at doing radio plays. I’d definitely listen:)

    1. I love the Lux Radio Plays.

      The Big Broadcast on WAMU in DC does old radio on Sunday nights from 7-11, and very often the last hour is Lux.

      I’m always amused at how they make the stars claim to love Lux.

  3. I love how you break this stuff down. I am guilty of non-plot-advancing, non-relationship-building banter, am trying to overcome.

  4. I sort of get where the screenwriter is coming from.
    I don’t much about writing or comedy.

    But can humor/funny stuff be passive?
    I feel for something to be funny your brain has to engage with it. Sometimes you won’t agree with it or it isn’t taste, but in order to really laugh with it, you have to be engaged with the material.
    (But then the set-up to the scene has to make sense and transition out of it needs to make sense).

    I’m confused by the idea they’ll get married, based on the fact Nita is anti-marriage. For me, it is necessary to see a character’s thought process if I’m going to be okay with them doing something that they have clearly said they’re against. I think having scenes where we can see Nita shifting is going to be necessary if I’m going to be on-board with them getting married.

    (I had a lot more to say, but I tried to not to write too much.)

    1. Write all you want; we’re talky here.

      Nita isn’t anti-marriage, she just hasn’t wanted to get married. It’s not a goal, and she hasn’t met anybody that inspires her to make it a goal. There’s a scene early on where she tells her boss that the guys she was dating wanted to get married and she didn’t want to, but I don’t think she says, “I hate marriage” or “I’m anti-marriage.” I may have to make that clearer.

      I don’t think humor is ever passive because it’s so subjective. Laughter is an emotional response to whatever evokes it, so it’s by definition active.

      1. Thank you Jenny! Yes I definitely got the sense that Nita was anti-marriage and kids. Maybe give her another reason she broke up with the exs?

  5. Banter, huh. Timely topic. Read obits and commentary on Neil Simon this morning. Opinion seems to be playwright Simon’s of-his-era funny, playwrights O’Neill, Albee, Williams, Wilson are for all eras. Comics, they don’t get no respect.

    1. Simon was funny as hell. The Odd Couple still cracks me up: “What is that? The curse of the Cat People?” And that great bit where Felix signs all his notes to Oscar “F. U.” and Oscar says it took him hours to figure out that “F.U.” was “Felix Unger.” But Simon’s attitudes toward women were stuck in the fifties; they’re all child-like and demanding and hysterical. I think Plaza Suite may have some well-drawn women in it, but Barefoot in the Park and The Goodbye Girl both had heroines who needed to be slapped and long suffering love interests who put up with them because they were cute. They’re not wearing well. I still laugh like crazy when Mildred Natwick falls down those stairs in the movie of Barefoot, though. It’s horrible of me, but I do every time.

  6. Yes please to radio plays!

    I have nothing more to add than thank you (and I wish the fanfic kids would pay attention and not continue past resolution).

  7. The radio play idea goes some distance to explaining why I love the audio versions of your books so much. I think that “Agnes and the Hitman” was my introduction to your work, and from there I sought out all the others. I’ve listened to it dozens of times. The reader (actress) who read the book did a terrific job giving each character a distinct voice. It’s a comfort listen (like a good portion of the Pratchet catalog); it works a charm, and I thank you.

  8. I read a comment in a cooking blog once along the lines of “Fat enhances flavor; sugar masks it.” That’s probably why there’s so much added sugar in prepared and low-fat foods.

    That said, it seems that banter often helps establish character, even if it’s not furthering the plot. Or maybe I just like good banter, especially yours.

    1. I like banter, too, it’s great for building relationships, but it can’t be the only reason for a scene. Argh.

    1. I did not say that! Delete that post. I just remembered all those lovely WIPs, and Nita to be finished.

    2. Lani and I did podcasts for a year and it damn near killed us. It was a great series and we both learned a lot (analyzing romcom movies) but at the end, we said, “And now we’re done.”

      1. That sounds fun, I missed those.
        Yes, I imagine if you’re writing a ‘radio play’ version of podcast, you’d want someone else to take care of production. Hypothetically.

          1. OK, I just listened to you and Lani laugh your way thru The Maltese Falcon. I have it on DVD, now I have to watch it again.

  9. This (and the post about the marriage banter itself, and all the comments therein) was a good reminder. I’m working on a book that isn’t quite a book yet, and part of the reason why is because I really need to reexamine the characters’ changes throughout the book and also each scene I already have to see if they move the book forward.

    Ironically, my mother (a very good aspiring writer herself) read what I had already and asked me all the questions I’d been asking her about her own manuscript. (Most of which I learned from you, Jenny.) It’s like I know this stuff, but then I forget it when I’m actually doing my own writing. ARGH.

    1. Yeah, but you don’t ask yourself that stuff during the discovery draft. That’s just for you. You use the questions to make what you’ve got better. Don’t beat yourself up. Let the readers do that (g).

  10. This was really valuable. When I read the Nita/Nick marriage discussion it seemed cute but I did not get the reason for marriage. Or why she would have to be married to him for him to give her money, especially since he wanted her to investigate stuff, i.e., work for/with him. It felt like those 1960 Harlequins where they got married so that there could be a sex scene.

    If Nita needs money, Nick could rig a pull-tab and she wins $10,000 and pays her taxes and it’s legal. She looses her job, Nick could hire her as a consultant for $2,5oo/day or $400/hour. Yes I know people who have charged those kind of rates and they are just kind of your average specialist. Lawyers charge between $200 and $500/ hour typically. Your average technical consultant, like a systems analyst hired by a corporation charges $150 to $400/hr. Nick could easily pay her a bunch of money without ever marrying her so the motivation felt sketchy to me.

    1. Then I’d have to write about how he set up a corporation to pay her, and what she was supposed to be doing for that kind of money. His approach was “We get married, I disappear, you’re rich and independent.” But the scene goes anyway, so not a problem.

      1. He doesn’t need a corporation to give her a 1099 but that’s another money problem.

        Once he gives anyone more than $10k, the bank files a form with the IRS. The bank will want HER SSN for that. And if not, they withhold up to 35% I think.

        The IRS will also be alerted if a long dormant account (and that’s if he’s worked around the abandoned property issue) suddenly starts showing activity. Because they like tax returns for all those years. Even if he had it in Swiss francs, then there’d be foreign tax returns.

        Post 9/11 the reporting requirements are more stringent.

        I may be wrong but I think you’re going to need Hell to have a human operator in the finance world here on earth.

        1. That would be Nick, who comes to Earth to fix problems. The years that matter to the story are the ones where he spends a long time here, but he’s here often enough he could take money out, put money in, to keep the accounts current.
          The tax thing would depend on what nationality he was pretending to be financially. I think the Devil’s account is a corporate one.
          Needless to say, I didn’t spend a lot of time on this because I wasn’t sure I was going to do it.

  11. One other thing I wondered about in the scene was Nick said that his money increased from double compounding. You would need to check with your financial guy but for many decades now if an account has no activity, the bank suspends paying interest. Banks may have stopped automatically paying compound interest in the 80’s or 90’s. I don’t know what happens with trust accounts but I have had savings accounts where every two years or so the bank notifies me that unless I make a withdrawal or a deposit, the account will become inactive. So I put in $10 or take out $5 and it is good for another two years. Of course, the interest banks have paid for the last few decades isn’t worth worrying about at my savings level but still it caught my attention.

    One way you could build up money is have a stock, like IBM or Xerox or Boeings or Detroit Edison or one of the oil stocks (Microsoft is too new for Nick as are IRAs, 401Ks and Roth IRAs) where stock dividends are automatically reinvested. On a good stable stock which pays reasonable dividends and gradually increases in value, you are going to end up with a nice piece of change even with down turns in the market, after 50 or 60 years.

    1. I did the research on compound interest to find out how much it would end up being; I’m assuming it’s in a Swiss bank account where they leave it be and don’t get picky about things like that. He wouldn’t have put it in Chase. Oh, and he switched it to a new bank, probably something in the Caymans or Switzerland, in 1986.

    2. Like Chrysler?

      Most states have an abandoned property law. The bank asks you to show activity because otherwise legally they are required to turn the funds over to the state (which only pays a nominal fee) until the state can trace the owner.

      That’s why your state treasurer or comptroller will often post pages and pages of names – it’s a legal requirement to find the owner of the abandoned property the state has seized from banks, brokerages, etc.

  12. Wait, what’s the problem again? Money? He can just make her a co-signer on his account…? So long as she doesn’t go crazy and spend it all at once, I doubt the government is going to notice. The IRS has bigger problems.

    1. Well, she’s going to buy a bar (in theory) so she’d be laying out a chunk of it.
      Also, the government notices a lot more than you’d think, and if the government doesn’t, the bank does. The bank would be the first to report it. And I’m pretty sure somebody would catch it eventually at tax time. I think.

        1. The IRS is a nonpartisan agency. If you have a financial transaction in this country, they want to know you’re paying taxes on it. If the money came from overseas, and you’re a citizen, they want to know you filed a tax form for foreign income.

          Can he prove he’s not a citizen?

          Filing the return itself is not such a big deal- or at least it didn’t use to be. There were cases in the 1980s I believe where the Department of Justice wanted the IRS to open its books up for drug dealers who filed tax returns (Yes, some drug dealers actually paid attention to the Al Capone story) and the IRS refused.

          Their argument was their job was to collect taxes, and as long as the return was filed properly, sharing the information with Justice was going to stop criminals from filing returns.

          No joke – there was a tax court case where the dealer filed his return and took a deduction for cost of product. He was fined because you can’t take a business deduction for illegal acts but as long as he amended the returns and just showed the income, the IRS was good. And that IIRC is what he did.

          However, I think the Vatican Bank might solve some of your problems since it’s a great mystery to everyone and Coppola already used it in Godfather III. And the bank could issue the unlimited Visa.

          New wrinkle – he’s going to want a very strong provenance for this money. Because the asset forfeiture laws have been used by every small police department/sheriff’s department in this country to underwrite their operations. And all they have to do is seize it and say they know it’s the income from illegal actions. They don’t even need to arrest him.

          So if the Lemmons are going after him, the easiest way would be to kneecap Nita’s purchase of the bar by seizing it.

          I think the unlimited Visa should solve a lot of these problems. But any money he’s spending here is going to be looked at.

          1. So if he’s got a Vatican account, which he could easily have, he could have an unlimited Visa on it? Because the Visa is how he’s paying for everything.
            But once he buys the bar, he’s into big bucks and then the IRS gets interested? He hasn’t bought the bar,isn’t planning on it, that would be Nita’s headache, and all she wants to do is rent the apartment.

            But Sadie bought Demonista with that Visa. And a baph but I don’t think the IRS tracks baphs. So Sadie could have opened a can of worms there without realizing it. And it was three months ago, but it’s the end of March now, so Apr. 15 is just a couple of weeks away.

            My head hurts. I’ll think about this again tomorrow (it’s 3AM here). Thank you VERY much for pointing all of this out.

          2. If you’re right and he has $40M with a bank, they will certainly figure out a way to issue him a limitless Visa if that’s what he wants. Visa is a network that banks & other affinity groups sign up to issue cards under. Think of it as a Visa debit card for his account.

            He’s Italian, the money’s in Italian hands, the US has no jurisdiction. Up to the moment where his buying and gifts come to their attention. Even then he could probably fly under the radar for a little while. Nothing over $10k – and nothing over $10k cumulative to one person over several days (bank is required to report). Visa may actually work better than cash – cash is suspected to be the proceeds of money laundering (which it is – only 85 years later).

            Buying a bar makes all the alarm bells squeal – even if Nita is the front man. The bar is legally three things – it’s the physical building, it’s the busines, and in the case of a bar – most importantly it’s the liquor license.

            Buying the building will require filing papers with the county property office- depending on local law, inspections may or may not be waived. Buying the business will require contracts and transferring ownership of tradenames & trademarks with the state corporate agency, and establishment of a tax id and presence. If Nita’s not careful btw, by offering to buy the bar she could also buy all of Vinnie’s debts if he ran them through the bar. So if he hasn’t been playing his property taxes for 10 years, she could buy the liability if she’s not careful.

            But the big one is the liquor license.

            Most states don’t let you buy a liquor license – they either issue you a new one OR they limit the number of licenses and insist you get the ownership of one transferred to you. In most states, that will require you to have a background check, a criminal check, a posted bond. NJ does not allow felons to own or work in a place serving liquor without a background check.And you are always supposed to have on hand all your invoices & receipts and inventory and a list of employees with names, ages & ID.

            My guess is people set up fake businesses all the time – but in a lot of states (and NJ may be one of them) screwing around with the liquor license gets you jail time or a very personal relationship with your ABC inspectors. Strangely enough, if NJ has local vinyards, they’re even more strict about where you bought your liquor and did you pay customs & duties on it.

            So if anything triggers outside/government interest, the bar is it.

            Did Sadie buy the business or did she set a business up? If she’s setting one up, depending on how much stuff she bought, whether or not she has employees, she probably won’t trigger anything until later in the year. And don’t worry about April 15th – April 15th is to file last year’s taxes. What she needs to be worrying about is filing her sales taxes promptly.

            If she bought the business, she paid someone else with the Visa which is a US transaction in a US state not recorded on anyone’s tax returns. If someone trips over it, they’ll start digging but not like the liquor license. The licquor license they start digging before the license changes hands.

            Fun question for you – is your township dry? Because 35 municipalities in NJ are dry.

          3. I don’t think my township is dry, but it wouldn’t matter; the township where I shop definitely sells me liquor. Weirdly, I don’t drink, so I don’t buy a lot of it, but I cook with it and every now and then in moments of extreme stress I hit the rum or vodka. Last time: Election night 2016.

            I’m thinking I’ll keep Vinnie around as a character, which means they won’t need to buy the bar. They can rent the apartment.

            Sadie bought something. It might just have been the building, but it had a boutique in it called Demon Duds that she changed to Demonista, so she could have bought the business. Haven’t really thought that one through, but it’s turning a profit and she’s prepared to pay all taxes. Like most immigrants, she’s super careful to stay within the law.

  13. I enjoyed the scene a lot, but not really in the context of The New Book, but outside of context. Any time you talk about marriage, there’s the potential for conflict. Any time you talk about money, there’s the potential for explosive conflict. It’s easy to imagine conflict to go with that banter, LOL. Which is one reason why this is a first draft, and not a carefully crafted tenth draft that corrals the reader into the Right Ways of Thinking.

    I am not quite sure that “funny isn’t good enough reason to save a scene” — I grew up on *The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy*, which seemed to have plenty of odd inserted humor that actually became more iconic than the plotted portions of the story. That whole long entry about the Panic Button (or the Towel bit!) could have been reduced to a throw-away line, but we would have lost something important in our culture (or at least, I think we would).

    In the best of all possible worlds, though, a scene would be funny, endearing, full of conflict and pushing plot and character arcs to the limits. I think Douglas Adams was an impatient writer who was being whooshed to distraction by deadlines. Who knows what he would have produced if he had only sat down and worked on those other things? Possibly Pratchett-level work. Possibly nothing. Who knows? Not a what-if worth looking back on, I think.

      1. Of course, it needs to be cut (mostly because you feel that way and you’ve got excellent taste), but it also needed to be written, which is an important lesson to us writers-in-waiting. Why money now? Why marriage now? The ideas are probably going into the book, is my best guess at this point.

        And I’ll be interested to see how the syrup-shuffling works out. Will it make it into the book, and in what form and where if it does? (No, no spoilers! I want to see for myself, so don’t worry about it.) OTOH, it seems throw-away, but on the other hand, it also seems very deep and representative of the relationship and the change (Sugar, doot-doot-doot-doot-doo-doo. Oh, honey, honey.).

  14. I think he can give her as much money as he wants and it’s totally legal. I believe you are confusing gift and estate tax and anti-money laundering provisions. If you put in or take out more than 10,000 in cash the bank will report it to the feds so they can investigate whether you are money laundering.
    If you give anyone more than $15,000 (the current exclusion, used to be $10,000) you the donor just pay gift tax on it. You file a tax form and then when you die it is included in your estate tax calculation.
    Of course Nick is already dead so I don’t know how the IRS would handle it. 🙂

    I don’t know what this does to your plot.

    I think Nick must have moved his accounts around a little more often so that the banks wouldn’t realize that he was not aging. I mean, if someone who is in his mid thirties when he makes a deposit comes in to move the money in his mid 80s and still looks thirty…and even if he does it electronically I think the bank has your date of birth and you have to give ID for electronic transfers. I don’t know how that would play out…

    1. I think any close examination of Nick is going to raise questions which is why he’s not reporting anything. If his account is a corporate account, they’d expect it to keep going. I doubt he’d tie it to a single identity.
      I have no idea how Sadie is explaining where she got the money for the store (the baph was an under-the-table payment). Maybe she’s reporting that she’s paying interest on a private loan. Forget where the money came from, how is she explain where SHE came from.
      And then there’s Vinnie and the bar. I’m sure he’s been underreporting his income from that for years.

      1. Somewhere someone probably offers classes on how small cash businesses can under report their income…

        1. Maybe. But if they do, they’re the kind of folks who would do it to trick you and steal the money. No decent accountant wants to help you hide it because they know how easy it is to screw up one detail that brings the audit division out.

          The bank on Demon Island however may has to have come up with solutions for these problems. Because all of these demons coming through have needed a grubstake.

          Repatriating Swiss francs is not as easy as it was in the Thomas Crown Affair.

          1. No, they’re not messing with the bank on Demon Island officially. Nick just sends them to Earth with cash; except I have Sadie with his card so that could be a problem.
            The Lemmons probably have a bank account there, but they also have a human presence there, so that wouldn’t raise any flags. Demonista would have an account, but then that’s a business. The human groups would have accounts, but again, they’re human and normal.
            I have Nick and the boys using that Visa whatsis, the one with no limit.

            Damn it, I can get rid of the marriage thing, but now I have to figure out how he and the boys and Sadie use that card without getting flagged.

  15. He can give her as much as he wants and it’s completely legal. He just has to report it if it’s over $15,000 so that the tax he (not she) owes on the gift can be figured into his estate tax when he dies. How the IRS would handle his estate tax if he never dies, being dead already, I don’t know.

    I think you are confusing this with the banks legal requirement to report cash transactions of over $10,000 to help track money laundering. But even those are legal, they just get reported. And he can buy her a bar with a check not cash.

    Not sure what this does to your plot.

    This may be my second post on the topic but I don’t see the first one.

  16. Sometimes I think I should send you my student loan payments because I’m learning more here than I did in my mfa program.

    Or I’m reminded of how to practice the craft.

    Thank you for sharing your process.

  17. Why doesn’t it mean something to Nita? I got the feeling from early drafts that Nita is a great deal like Calvin – she thought the previous boyfriends were having a great time and then they wanted to get married.

    Would asking her to marry him – even in this casual way – not put Nick in the category of Oh-God-here-we-go-again?

    I know you’ve said that Nick isn’t stuck (at this moment) in his previous life but what does marriage mean to him? Has he been married before?

    (And yes, I think Satan’s fixer would think $43M would make this a done deal. Because people who fix things sometimes believe money solves all problems and makes all deals).

    If there’s conflict in this scene, I think you have two people who have vastly different ideas of what marriage means and why you do it. And if each of them is looking at it differently – if one of them thinks marriage kills romance and the other thinks no one in their right mind would walk away from a $43M deal, they could both be arguing in different spheres and not hearing what the other person was saying.

    (The money is bothering me btw – it’s too much to have been sitting around without human intervention and someone needs to have been paying taxes on the income and this is the kind of thing that makes accounting people mutter during books…. Although I did think it would be funny if Nick is promising all this money and it turns out it was in Lehman Bros or Bear Stearns or even Chrysler, and he’s just running up a huge credit card bill.)

    1. Crap, I forgot about taxes.
      Although since he scammed it, it’s not exactly declared income and if he’s got it in a foreign bank, the US wouldn’t have a right to it. Don’t rich people park money in offshore accounts to avoid taxes? (Yes, I know nothing beyond what I need to understand my own taxes and even there I’m caught short sometimes.)

      The marriage thing: No, Nita would not think “Here we go again.” Nick isn’t saying “I love you, let’s have babies,” he’s saying, “I can solve the problem of you losing your job; I’ll marry you and you can have my money.” He is clearly not trying to tie her down in any way, he even says, “I’m going back to Hell anyway, you’ll be free.”

      1. Taxes & fees. 1. The US is one of the few countries that expects its citizens to pay US taxes on foreign income. That’s why the Paradise Papers were such a big deal.

        2. Most banks have a management fee on total assets which they would collect – 1% to 2%

        3. After the 1960s, the Swiss were being pressured to reveal more about the dormant bank accounts because of the Holocaust.

        However I may have thought of a place where he would not have to pay taxes, no one would question him about the source, and his only problem would be in trying to get the money out.

        The Vatican. Especially if there were a few of the higher ups who were aware of the true nature of Hell. Or if he had a long standing account there. The Vatican Bank proper only dates to 1942 – but the Catholic Church has held gold & artworks in its own hands for a very long time.

        If you say Nita doesn’t put him in that category, I believe you. If I were Nita and the last few relationships had soured on arguments about marriage, the very word would make me twitchy.

        1. Well, his dad was a Borgia pope.

          And he’s not a US citizen. He wasn’t a US citizen when he was alive.

          But yes, you’re right, this is a lot more complicated than I wanted it to be. I may have to figure out another way to get him money. I just loved the idea that compound interest got him millions.

        2. I’m pretty sure you don’t have to pay taxes on foreign income if you’ve paid foreign taxes, but I may have that backward. I have to fill out paperwork for foreign royalties so I don’t get taxed twice, here and there. Maybe that gets me out of foreign taxes.

          1. I believe you get a credit for foreign taxes paid, but I know a lot of people declared themselves expatriates because the IRS was looking for them to file US returns.

            And it was cheaper to give up their citizenship than try and keep two taxing authorities happy.

          2. I don’t make enough on foreign sales to do that, but I definitely have to fill out paperwork for different countries. It lasts for more than a year, I think.

  18. Thank you for this. While I do know it, it slips from my mind and I need reminders. Now I’m rethinking a scene in the middle of my WIP that has lots of banter, but I need to check it to see what else it does other than entertain. I hope it does more, but if not, off to the block it goes!

  19. I would have assumed that Satan, and therefore Nick, would have access to some very clever accountants and lawyers through the centuries. Any legal obstacle or governmental oversight would just be an interesting challenge to the right/wrong person – I’ve seen it in action. So Nick could always just leave it to his accountants to keep him very, very wealthy without drawing undue attention.


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