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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beginning "Dabblers"

My next work is on "Dabblers," a manuscript that goes way back. I can't remember exactly when I started writing it. Maybe around 2007 or 2008? I know that it was in a finished state in February 2009, because I was debating whether to pitch it or "The Dreamer Gambit" at Pitch-a-Palooza at the Love Is Murder conference that year. I went with "Dreamer" at the time. Later, I sent queries to agents and small publishers for "Dabblers" and received some good, if basic, feedback.

Digging into the ms. anew, I realized something that is missing right off the bat. I've seen it called a "problem statement" or an "objective" in various places. It's a statement of what the POV character wants or must overcome, an idea of the conflict at the heart of the story. I've noticed that my novels tend to have two lines going at the same time--one a mystery/puzzle to solve and the other an emotional/relationship issue. One of the two has to be out there, in the reader's face, within the first couple of pages.

I remember when I was originally writing "Dabblers" thinking that I would reveal things about my character as the mystery built up, a sort of "slow reveal" strategy. The comments I received from one publisher was that the characters seemed sort of pale, uninteresting. So maybe "slow reveal" doesn't actually work. Just because I know my character and the interesting story that lies ahead, no one else knows it, and if I don't get them interested within the first couple of pages, they aren't going to care enough to get to the essence of my character or the mystery she faces.

The first step of polishing "Dabblers" then became getting the story rolling. I changed a couple of passages so that my POV character, Stefanie, sets up some hooks to lure the reader in. First, there is conflict between Stefanie and her husband, Paul, over some traumatic event that recently occurred. As the two characters converse in the opening, they are both avoiding talking about it although both are concerned that Stefanie is not ready to face dealing with her uncle's death because of that earlier event which grows more and more mysterious-sounding. The other part of the story, i.e., the current mystery of what really happened to Stefanie's uncle, also begins to unfold in Chapter 1 with suggestions that his supposedly accidental death was not an accident at all and that occult forces were involved.

The other thing I noticed is that the story bogs down as Stefanie describes the setting, the small town of Windsong Lake which she knows well. I'm thinking some of the description can be moved to other passages when she starts going into the town. There are other passages early on which provide some back story. The way it is currently written, it jerks the reader out of the scene, almost like the old asides in Shakespearean plays where an actor speaks to the audience. Avoiding this can be tricky when writing in the first person, but now that I've recognized it, I don't think I can let it slide. There is a possibility that trying to weave in the facts in other ways might bog things down even worse, but that's a judgment call I'll make when I get there.

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