Nita: A Progress Report

So I’m going back to the original manuscript and starting my pruning from a different perspective. I had cut a lot from the book, but it wasn’t getting better, it was just getting shorter and thinner, not as much depth, not as rich, and it felt rushed. Maybe it needed to be 135,000 words? No. I knew the book was lardy, over written, Too Much Stuff. So I reconceptualized my approach. (That’s the way we MFAs talk. Actually, I just said, “Well, this sucks, Crusie, try again.)

I started with that classic, “What is this book about?”

Nita. What’s the key to Nita’s conflict? She’s alone, she’s an outsider, she’s always cold, she’s in denial about how she doesn’t fit in, she thinks it’s her fault and if she just tries harder to be normal, she’ll finally be warm, so she dedicates her life to saving the people she can’t connect with and just gets colder. What happens in the resolution of the book? She’s surrounded by a community she connects with and who understands and accepts who she is, and she’s committed to a good guy who knows exactly who she is and will love her until the end of time.

Okay, that’s a book. It’s not a plot, it’s a character arc, but still a book.

So that first scene? I’ve got Nita cold and alone in a car with a stranger. Then her brother gets in and he clearly loves her and approves of her and supports her in every way. Then her ex-boyfriend gets in and tells her he has a new girlfriend. Which of these things undercuts the “alone and cold” beginning I need for Nita. Oh, god, I have to cut Mort. Either that or make him a bastard to his sister and I do not want that. Except I kind of need him, so . . . crap, as Button would say. Well, I can cut him from this scene anyway.

Then there’s Nick in the next scene. Nick has to echo Nita, cold and alone, and he’s dead, so I got that part right. But I gave him two minions who respect him and set him up against Vinnie, who’s alone now that I’ve cut the Hotels. What I need is Nick alone, caught between two communities that emphasize that. So in the rewrite, Rab and Jeo are respectful but wary of him, and Vinnie gets his Hotels back, a damaged but still functional community. And Nick is there in the middle, emotionless and alone. And then Nita walks in.

I like this. Nita’s alone and outside the bar, a literal outsider, and Nick’s alone in the bar, and then 135,000 words later in the resolution, they’re together in the bar, warm and surrounded by a community that knows exactly who they are and loves them for it. And also they’ll love each other until the end of time, but that’s a given, it’s a romance novel.

I actually. think approaching this from character arc instead of plot may be the solution. I just have to start over and use the character arc as the spine. Community. Food. Bad sex. A dog. It’s a Crusie.

You know, making stuff up isn’t difficult. Making stuff work as a coherent narrative is a bitch. She whined.

61 thoughts on “Nita: A Progress Report

  1. I’m perhaps not the best judge of how to put a book together in the best way, or how to cut one for that matter. I suck at killing darlings. But to me (!) it looks like you’ve found the right approach now.

    Let’s get those two cold people into the warmth. With love, hugs and good food. And good sex, if they must. 😉

    Can’t wait to read this book!

  2. Mozzarella, gouda, cheddar, feta, halloumi, blue, stilton, cream, cottage… I thought you needed some cheese for your w(h)ine.

    I’m glad you’re achieving something. I’m about one-fifth through the paperwork and ARGH.

  3. I am sad because I had the most marvelous dream about you and then I woke to reality. In my dream you bought a little cottage surrounded by tall pines – very Seattle-esque – at the end of my block. You’d regularly have people over for potluck breakfasts in your backyard, although in my dream “breakfast” consisted of platters of cookies. Everyone came in robes and bare feet without brushing their hair and and you had peacocks running around. Oh, and while everyone clearly enjoyed being there, there wasn’t a single too-peppy morning person. It was so lovely.

    It is going to sleet today and I still haven’t bought a single present for my daughter and husband who have birthdays on Easter and 3 days prior to Easter. Oh, and I need to finish my taxes. I preferred the dream of cookie brunches with Susie.

    1. Kick, a nitpick here. Okay, it’s a dream. You are allowed latitude for your kind heart. BUT. You must be dreaming her into North Seattle, which is mostly Douglas fir which at one time were called Oregon pine (obsolete). Seattle in large part, except for the parks and the Arboretum and some spendy neighborhoods, has few street trees. However the suburbs have lots of evergreens and there are actually a lot of small lakes, but they are pretty much wall-to-wall with houses around the lake though. In Washington almost any lake you can built around will indeed be totally surrounded.

      Now if you dream us all into Oregon, I can provide the breakfast and I even have a 45 foot tall Douglas fir and a 40 foot Port Orford cedar and a small backyard. But better I have a loggia to eat where we can huddle out of the mist, also known as rain. Or a very large dining room which we can re-image as a banqueting hall and add a few swashbucklers for a ambience. I like this. Let’s go for it.

      1. I’m so here for the Argh breakfast. I can do a lovely Bircher muesli style oatmeal. You feel like you’re eating dessert!

    2. And as long as the presents are bought in time, you are good. It’s my husband’s b-day and I wrapped his present and signed his card just this morning. Fortunately, I get up an hour before he does.

    3. I so love dreams like this! I’d happily come to breakfast with my hair uncombed. Anyone who’d like to come to the east coast can come to breakfast here. I’ll supply cookies but if you want real breakfast food you’ll have to invite someone who can cook it!

    4. I make amazing coffee…fresh-ground beans every morning, real cream… it’s delicious. My contribution to an ARGH breakfast. Now, just to get to Seattle…

  4. I love Mort (she whined) – he is THE thing that makes Nita likable to me in the beginning – up to the point where she takes Button’s gun to cover for her, where I start liking her for that. I know Mort loves her, but he so clearly has his own agendas that I am not sure I would say he supports her unilaterally.
    I am sure your thought process is right, I just wanted to whimper. I know you don’t care if I like Nita, as long as I am interested in her, but I LIKE to like her. Ok, stopping talking now – this week’s recurring resolution.

    1. I think that’s the problem: Mort makes her human and warm and likable, and I need her interesting and out in the cold.
      I don’t think I’m cutting Mort entirely, but I definitely need Nita more isolated in that scene.

      1. Without Mort in that first section, the interactions between Button and Nita have more umphh. You’re brilliant.

        1. Well, I try (g).
          Of course, I’m the person who stuck Mort in there in the first place.

          1. What if Mort loves and supports her but clearly doesn’t “get” her? That can be isolating.

  5. Couldn’t the Mort interactions be re-jiggered, instead of cut? Think of how the Amenadiel scenes in the early Lucifer episodes were BORING for being cold. If a key aspect of the early scenes are that Nita can’t connect with people, it’s not necessarily wrong for there to be characters who want to support her, but she still just can’t connect with them?

    1. I’m trying to think what Mort DOES in this book that’s important. He goes with them out to Demon Head, but I think Nick could do everything he does. He’s in the Chinese dinner aftermath scene with Keres, but Keres pretty much dominates that scene. He’s with Nick after Nick gets stabbed, but that scene is about 200 words long. Then he kind of disappears. I love him, I think he’s great, but he’s not DOING ANYTHING except being the ME. So I need to seriously consider him.

      The thing is, if I take him out of a lot of the scenes, that leaves Nita alone with Nick, and that’s a good thing. I think Mort is toast.

      1. Do not listen to us. I like everything you do and even if you take out someone I adore, I will still like it. But if you listen to me when I whine that you are killing my darlings, you may never get this book to where you want it.

      2. See, the thing is, if we weren’t all denizens of Arghink, we’d read Nita when it comes out and adore it and never miss Mort because we’d never meet him.

        But Mort is fun and we like him.

        On the other hand, the Hotels got axed and then resuscitated. Maybe Mort will vanish and come back.

        Or perhaps we meet him in another story — you know, like a hint of Davy in Welcome to Temptation, but really getting to know him in Faking It….

        1. Davy was pretty big in WTT.
          The thing that’s making me lean toward cutting Mort is that it leaves Nick and Nita alone in a couple of scenes that would be stronger if they’re alone.
          OTOH, then I lose that great Dodd of the Dead line. Maybe I’ll give that to Keres. She runs a funeral home, it would still work.

      3. Nooooo, not Mort! His name made more sense for me than Keres with the death theme, too.

        1. That’s why Rab has to tag them when he reports to Nick. A lot of people don’t put Mort and Morte together, especially if they don’t read Pratchett.

      4. Does Mort provide a medical necessary medical perspective on any to anything going on in the book or any of the characters that helps move the story and provides insight?

        I could see needing him for that, but otherwise, though I LOVE what he does and what he brings with him, I can see where cutting him might be the way to go for the story.

        1. He gives Forcas a pain shot and he tries to help Nick when he’s been stabbed and he helps Mr. Alcevedo when he’s shot, but none of that is necessary.
          He gives Nita socks for her birthday that are important, but I can switch those to Keres.
          He’s been dating a demon but that just makes it weirder that he’s never told Nita demons are on the island.

          Mort’s got a big old target on his chest at this point.

          Just for the record, one of the first things Krissie said to me after she beta read was, “If you need something to cut, you could lose Mort.” Sigh.

          1. Makes sense. Sounds like you’ve got your plan of action, though it may not be the fun part of writing. I guess this is where that saying about cutting your darlings comes into play.

            Too bad for Mort, but if it makes the story better, a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.

      5. call me crazy (okay I just wrote two and a half novels that all hinge on one event, so clearly I am crazy) but maybe Mort needs his own book.

  6. I wonder if the character arc rules because it’s a romance? Too much plot’s what usually ruins a romance for me: I want to explore character and relationships.

    1. Long, long ago, I published my first romance, and my best friend back then, who was not a romance reader, said, “Every time the story went away from the main couple, I wanted it to go back to them.” So yep, I think you’re right, we read a romance to see the relationship arc, not to find out who poisoned the doughnuts.

      1. This analysis is probably part of why your massive rewrite of Bet Me worked so well and we love it so much: everything reflected back to Min and she’s an everywoman. Maybe that’s why I don’t reread your collaborations as often as the straight Crusies: those heroines were special women, not just me a bit different.

  7. Ok, I can wrap my head around that book. I’ll read any book you write, but that description makes me even more excited.

  8. Way back at your first share, I read the new book with this character arc. I musta been future-reading. Yeah, I had to ignore a lot, but it made me happy. Still does even better because that story, my as-read story, is now down on the page. Or will be when you get around to it, of course.

  9. I wish I could see my stories as clearly as you do. I’ve been ruminating on Glimmer Girls for YEARS now and it’s still not clear. I’m not even sure what kind of story it is. Romance, Woman’s journey, something else? Some Crusie clarity would be welcome in my brain!

    I’m not worried about Nina – I know that you will triumph and the story will make me happy. Whatever form it takes. And perhaps Mort will have his own story someday.

  10. “You know, making stuff up isn’t difficult. Making stuff work as a coherent narrative is a bitch. She whined.”

    Best writing quote ever.

  11. Making stuff work as a coherent narrative may be a bitch, but you’ve always had a very soft spot for dogs.

    This is the first post about the rewrite that sounds like your focus is on what makes writing something you want to do instead of a publishing exercise. I haven’t been reading the excerpts as we go along because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise when it was published, but what makes us such devoted, well nigh rabid, fans is that combination of traits that distinguishes a Crusie. I hope that reminding yourself of how you got to be who you are as a writer reopens the channel to the Girls in the Basement.

  12. One of my biggest complaints about that first scene was that there were too many people and that made it confusing. (Although mind you, I am easily confused.) I liked Mort, but removing him will definitely help that issue.

    Sorry, Mort.

    (I also never really understood what purpose the twin issue served in the plot. If it doesn’t have one, well, poor Mort.)

    1. The superfecundation was a fun take on Mitzi, but it’s not essential.

      If I take Mort out, that first scene is a three beat:
      Nita and a stranger, Button (who tells her they shouldn’t be there)
      Nita and Frank (who betrays her to Jason)
      Nita and Jason (who tells her to leave or he’ll report her)

      Button’s the antagonist all the way through, but the three-beat with three characters blocking her and isolating her is very tidy, too.

      Mort’s history.

      1. Oooh, oooh, I think I have a solution that’s actually better than the original.
        You know, sometimes I just amaze myself.

  13. I found this Progress Report so interesting I’ve read it many times. I have one question. You said: Nick has to echo Nita. Why? I’ve been on this blog for years and hardly ever comment, but this keeps niggling at me for some reason.

    1. Well, welcome out of lurk.

      Nick has to echo Nita in this book (not a rule of thumb for all books) because they’re two outsiders who don’t belong anywhere. Nick’s dead so he doesn’t belong on Earth but he’s human so he shouldn’t be walking around Hell, either. Nita’s not human (not completely) so she doesn’t fit on Earth, but she was born on Earth and has just enough human in her that she’s not part of Hell, either. So the two of them have known they were outsiders for decades, each of them the only one of their kind in existence, so when they find each other, they’re both unconsciously looking for a place to belong, and they unconsciously see in each other the same emptiness and experience of being lost. They find each other. So Nick has to be as alone in his first scene (second scene in the book) and Nita is in her first scene (first scene in the book) to underscore that. Not so that a reader will know anything of the stuff I’ve just said, but so that foundation will be there. It’ll take the whole first act to establish that, so that when Nita takes Nick’s hand after the smite, it has impact.

      But it’s not a protagonist/love interest rule or guideline. It’s just what has to happen in this story.

  14. You mentioned the dog as part of this being a Cruise, and I don’t deny it, but I suspect this means more than Mort got cut. 🙀😿

    1. No, Stripe’s still part of the story. Plus there’s another dog, too. Because Stripe, uh, exits. Happily. He’s very happy.

  15. You know – I enjoyed Mort, but it always seemed a little odd to me that he believed so strongly in demons from the start when Nita didn’t. It seemed like they would have been more in sync about that – especially with the logical/scientific way he worked as an ME, which she was witness to often as a detective working along side him.

    It was always a question to me why she wouldn’t believe him about demons, or at least have looked into it a bit more, especially when she told us from the start – “he’s solid on everything else”… Like, if my brother spouted some sort of crazy conspiracy theory but it lined up with things he would absolutely witness first hand in his job, which I know he’s successful at…I would be inclined to give a bit of consideration to what he was saying and not just dismiss it out of hand…I think ESPECIALLY if investigating was my gig and I had a little supernatural spidey sense handshaking in my day-to-day experience too.

    I’m glad I got to know him…but as you’re explaining your thinking and as I’m thinking about it more…I’m thinking you’re making the right cut for the book.

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