For a long time I’ve been revising my first book in the Fairy Glen series, October’s Fire. Sometimes I’d get to the point where I was banging my head against a wall. Good advice says put it aside and start work on another project. When you’ve finished something, even if it’s not perfect, move on to the next thing.
Okay, that sounded like a good idea. And my brain was bursting with ideas for future books. I knew that November’s story would involve the women on horseback doing search and rescue for a missing girl, maybe more than one missing girl or woman.
November was coming, and I wanted to write November’s Missing during NaNoWriMo.
I had even free written (or “pantsed”–creating it on the fly without an outline), an opening scene that I liked a lot. It was dangerous, the characters were interesting, it was ripe with possibility.
But, my initial plot idea—missing girls—had pretty much only one realistic cause. Rape and murder by a pedophile.
I try to write books I want to read. This is not the kind of thing I want to read about, because there’s already too much of that in this world. Same reason I don’t like reading about serial killers. They aren’t glamourous to me. The real life depths of sickness that the human brain can descend to are not welcome in my fantasy world. Other writers do it very well. Other readers consume those stories happily. It fulfills something deep within us, just like any other type of crime or horror story. I’ll leave them to it. It’s just not my thing.
This one fact had me putting off plotting.
My brain had to do contortions. What if I made the red-herring “villain” someone who people would easily suspect, who looks the part, but isn’t the guilty party? What if he was developmentally disabled, so he was stereotyped by those around him and easily railroaded into taking the fall? What if the young woman he ‘kidnapped’ is a Special Ed teacher and convinces him to let her go? I actually wrote some compelling scenes along this line.
But the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to touch that with a ten foot pole. Because the more I wrote the developmentally disabled guy, the more of a stereotype he became. I try to steer clear of stereotypes. Or I should say, I try to use them in a tongue in cheek way, to have you thinking you’ve got this person pegged, then throw in a random interest or characteristic. Even though the mysterious Colombian sicario in my first book, October’s Fire, is clearly stereotypical, I tried to give him personality and humor, guilt and conscience, even a transcendent quality. I hope I did it well. Every other character is a stereotype too, but I always try to put a twist into them to make them unique. People are a bundle of contradictions, why can’t characters be too? But sometimes they are just too much of a cardboard cutout from the get-go, and not being well versed in adults with disabilities, I thought I’d leave that alone.
Not to mention the fact that this guy was still a red herring. Meaning there still was a real pedophile, the real criminal, out there in my Booklandia. Which I STILL didn’t want to write about.
SO that led me back to square one. I thought it over.
When I was brainstorming my ideas, what I was excited about was the Fairy Glen women doing search and rescue on horseback, getting certified by the sheriff’s department as mounted volunteers, exploring the post-burn landscape of Fairy Glen, uncovering more secrets of the community, and ultimately saving the day, of course. A feel good ending.
It seems so simple now, but what led me to a breakthrough in plotting, a eureka moment when all in one night I worked out most of the outline of the book, was simply to ask “What other reasons would a 14 year old girl get kidnapped and/or pursued through the forest, besides the obvious, icky explanation?” and ultimately it led to my outline, which includes a decade old crime witnessed by a toddler, fostering and adoption, repressed memories of that crime remembered through hypnotism, discovery of a biological mother and a long lost mountain-man grandfather.