Category Archives: Characters

The Arc, the Plot, and Everything

Between fits of hair-pulling, I have been reading quite a bit about the things one must do to get one’s novel manuscript ultimately into the hands of a willing publisher. I’ve been whittling down a snappy query letter. I’ve been distilling a synopsis. Now I’m making an outline.

“Why didn’t you make an outline to begin with?” My psychic powers can detect the question already.  I’m not a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I’m not a fastidious outliner either.

Sure, before I got fully underway, I set down what the main turning points of the plot would be. You know, the tried and true formula for manuscript success: The hero is born, the hero’s life goes to shit, the hero tries to clean up the mess or kill the shit-maker, shit gets worse, the hero gets in super-deep shit, the hero throws the shit-maker into the shit, and everybody lives happily ever after (or not).

Here’s the thing: what I thought the story was before I began is not exactly what the story turned out to be. My characters insisted on a different story. I listened.

Now I need to go back and outline the story the characters demanded. I’ve broken down my chapters into sub-parts, and I am writing a line for everything important that happens in each of them. This means that I am combing through the manuscript once again.

This is a good thing, I suppose. I have found one or two typos and a few instances of language that could be clarified or simplified. One more notch clicks on the gears tightening up the manuscript.

I wonder how many times I will have read through this manuscript before this project is finished. I have read it so many times that it tends to wash over me. I suppose that is why I am finding things I overlooked before now that I am going through the manuscript with the job of making an outline. It is forcing me to concentrate on something practical, shifting my perception just enough to get another angle on things.

After I am finished with the outline, I wonder if I will want to do some story tweaking…

I suppose I will need to wait to see how this novel ends up writing itself.

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Down in Miami

Jack sat in the 7-chair round-table conference room with his back to the glass wall separating the space at the end of the long hallway leading away from the reception area. The grey-and-white swirled marble conference table sat in a corner jutting out from the side of the building. He looked out of the wall-sized windows in front of him toward the tinted windows of more conference rooms emerging from both sides.

They were on the top floor, and huge birds soared in the thermals rising from the emerald and turquoise water 200 meters below. Dozens of them swooped around past the windows, up in the sky, and down toward the water. He wondered what sort of birds they were until he spotted one on the roof above the conference room to his left: Vultures. That one grasped the steel edging in its talons and spread its feathers, lording over the corner perch like a warrior king, daring another to oppose his rightful claim. The others kept their distance.

He laughed to himself and gazed across the water, over an anchorage speckled with an armada of pleasure-boats, toward the mass of overgrown condos encrusting the barrier island in a haze just below the horizon. An empty container ship was anchored offshore. Cruise ships, barges, tugboats, offshore service vessels, and a tall mast sailboat lined up alongside the rifle-straight rows of docks and terminals leading the way from the sea into the bay. Smaller craft made wake along the channels in the protected waters. At that height he could see the reefs and sandbars in the bay marked off by dots of green and red. Bigger boats waited for the drawbridge and smaller ones drew white ribbons around them as they made way out into the gulfstream.

Incongruous sounds escaped from the conference room to the left that had been marked with a “Pardon Our Dust” sign. The saws and screw-guns punctuated the variable whine of the too-cold air dropping from the long, narrow vents in the ceiling above the windows. The smell of new office surrounded him. All at once, a huge gathering of vultures materialized in a mass of intersecting spirals, swirling like a swarm of bees in the sky between the conference room and ocean.

He felt like a vulture himself, a scavenger waiting to feed on the dead. He had never contemplated suing anyone before, but he felt like he didn’t have any choices left. It was his last play to make before he resigned himself to a quiet oblivion that he knew would eventually spiral down like the birds gliding on the air outside the window.

He was high up in the sky, seemingly higher than the passenger-jets meandering from over the ocean toward MIA on final approach. The occasional helicopter passed close by. He looked down at their rotors chopping the air as they buzzed by like bumblebees. He felt even higher, because he was still high from the joint he had smoked earlier on the ride over, drugging himself to keep his mind off the mental pain the dope held at bay. A vulture came around the corner and shot toward him, pulling back and flapping its wings in a frenzy just before it smacked into the window.

The visit went as expected. The lawyers expressed their condolences and said lawyer-things that made sense to lawyers but not much sense to someone that had to live the life they were talking about. Halfway through, he took a bathroom break, refilled his complementary can of Coke with the flask he carried around with him, and took a few bumps of the real thing behind the closed door of a stall. He didn’t know whether he would go up or down, and he had stopped caring.

The second half of the visit was more pleasant given the circumstances of his bloodstream, but almost the same as the first half. He did get the opportunity to scribble on a signature line and watch the lawyers get all legal and lawyer-happy as they glad-handed him and assured him he had made a good decision. He thought about popping an oxy in the elevator as he went down, down, down to the street below.

Flip-flops in February. Cat-sized dogs strolled by, leading their humans on meandering paths back and forth along the sidewalk. The rumble and squeak of buses and the chirp of arming car alarms punctuated the competing sound systems of outdoor cafes. Humidity was seeping into the atmosphere, not yet at its full-summer oppression, but enough to remind him that Miami was the capital of Latin America.

Trucks hauled electronic billboards, blaring drums & bass as they cruised past the outdoor tables and awning-covered bars, temporarily victorious in the sonic melee. Improbably expensive exotic cars mingled with taxis and Toyotas as the streets cleared out at the end of business and the beginning of happy hour. Where else but Miami would a baby blue Lamborghini fail to turn heads? Phone-zombies made their way out of the city, away from downtown and onto the highways that might as well be parking lots. The night was awakening bit by bit as the valets chatted and waited for a new set of keys.

Happy hour pulled the crowd in slowly, like a parasailer out of the sky, into the music and chemical recreation. Amateurs. Mostly amateurs, anyway, but a few professionals kicking the night off early. Jack had become a pro who could spot another across the room through the ice at the bottom of his glass. Tall, short, fat, skinny, man, woman, old, young… They all had The Vibe.

The Vibe wasn’t something he could ever explain to anyone. Either you could tune into it or you couldn’t. If you could, then it didn’t need explaining. If you couldn’t, then words would be less effective than cheap beer. Jack covered his mojito with a napkin and went into the toilet to snort another couple of bumps.

Calling names

Once upon a time, I was a lawyer. This wasn’t that long ago, as I haven’t wrapped up my last case. Still, I prefer to think of it in the past, my in-good-standing licensure be damned.

In my lawyering, I sometimes was forced to go places that didn’t suck. One of these occasions was about a week ago when I was forced to go to Miami while it was cold as balls back at home.

While I was there I did a little word sketching, playing around with the mind of a character in my second novel manuscript. It is a newborn thing just beginning its life, not yet fully aware of what it is. But the CHARACTERS. Man, the characters. They can’t wait to bust out. They are out of control.

Only problem is, they don’t have names yet. Or maybe that isn’t a problem. I am certain they will name themselves after they hang out with me for a while. They already call each other names, but nothing that might appear on a birth certificate.

So, any writers (or non-writers) out there that have any comments about naming characters are welcome here. You are among friends–me and my multiple personalities. We think it is cool that you actually read this and took the time to comment. Truly.

Don’t everybody post all at once now. Don’t want to crash those servers.