Often, you inadvertently let a character take you down a rat hole. Yesterday, I let Janet get involved in a really steamy love scene. It was fun writing and imagining the characters in the scene, what they would do, and how they would feel. The text appearing on my laptop’s screen was really erotic. And, fun to write. Two hours and somewhere on the order of fifteen hundred words later, I finished. It was an emotional experience and I needed a break.
While away from my laptop, my brain started working and alarm bells went off. Not about the scene which some might thing was pornographic, but how did it advance the story.
Were the two in love? No.
Were they, in the story, going to have a long term relationship? No.
Did the passage add an interesting twist to the plot? Not really.
Did it add to character development? No, not really. It confirmed what the reader already knew.
Deleting your own work, no matter how good or bad it may be, is hard. I read the passage again, liked it but cut and pasted it into another document that contains is passages I’ve taken out for one reason or another. The words are not gone forever because I often go back an use them for ideas in other sections of this book or others, but for the time being, they are out of the manuscript. Maybe some other time in the story.
In this case the author, not the characters turned down a chance to make love. Oh well!
Any consultant will tell you that when you begin an engagement, the first job of the partner is to get the client to agree to the contents of the deliverable. From there, you can create the work plan and allocate the resources. The operative phrase is “start with the end in mind.” If you don’t do this, the consulting team is constantly searching for something to produce and it leads to unhappy clients and unpaid bills for work not authorized.
In many ways, writing a novel is similar and some authors are able to envision and outline the plot all the way to the end. I can’t. I create a story outline in paragraph form and then a chapter outline with bullets on what I see happening as the story unfolds. And, yes, I have an idea of how it will end, but I can tell you that in each of my five books that have been published, the ending is slightly or even significantly different than what I thought it might be.
Why? I let the character tell the story and sometimes they don’t do what I thought they would.
How does this happen? As you write, there is interaction between the characters and the events that are driving them. When you start on page one, it is hard to script what will happen on page three hundred and two. So while the story is outlined, what happens is not necessarily set in stone. And, that’s part of the fun of writing the novel because I don’t know what will happen in the end.
So, as I write, I worry where the novel is headed knowing the end will come and it will be what it is. Then, if I don’t like it, I have more work to do.
In 1983, at the end of the novel Forgotten, Janet Pulaski proposes to her lover Karin and they go off into the sunset to live happily ever after. So, if Janet is to resume her career as an assassin, what happens to Karin? As I thought about it, there were several options. All are interesting choices and I had to pick one. So without telling you what I chose, here’s some of the thinking about the four choices I evaluated.
• Accomplice – in Forgotten, Janet always worked alone. And, in fact, while still in school, she murders an accomplice to minimize the risk of someone rolling over on her. So, does she want a sidekick now with whom she is emotionally involved?
• Separate – they were in love and something would have to happen to have them decide to end the relationship. Karin knows about Janet’s life as an assassin and one of the conditions of them living together was Janet had to retire. This could be a plot element because Karin as a scorned lover, could come back and complicate Janet’s life by turning her in to the FBI or some other law enforcement or intelligence agency and Janet would have to choose between killing the woman she loved or risk being arrested or killed.
• Failed hit on Janet – One of the ways I thought I would start the book is to have Karin killed by an assassin and Janet starts out on a path of revenge. It’s an easy way to restart Janet’s career.
• Accident or natural causes – one way to deal with Karin is for her to die of natural causes or an accident. Karin and what she knows about Janet’s career as an assassin and the reader might have some sympathy for Janet as someone who lost a loved one.
When I started writing, I knew I had one interesting character – Janet Pulaski – the retired assassin. I knew I needed more major characters to make the plot work. What is evolving as I write the book is that it is a tale about three hunts.
One hunt is for a Abd al Bari Ghulem, a member of Hezbollah and its terrorist spin-off Islamic Jihad. His mission is to orchestrate terrorist attacks in Europe and ultimately the United States to kill infidels and Jews. He is totally dedicated to his mission and ruthless, even when it comes to his own men.
Hunt two is the Israeli search for the assassin they contracted through a third party to kill Nazis wanted for war crimes and for a variety of reasons, weren’t brought to justice. Leading the search is Aliyah Skylar from the Mossad and she inherits this search because she’s proposed using Janet (and other freelancers) as the weapon to kill Ghulem.
Hunt three is the FBI’s search for Janet. The FBI wants to bring her to justice for the hits she conducted on U.S. soil. Here’s the problem, the CIA also used her and wants to use her again either as a trainer or as an asset.
Now, all I have to do is refine the plot threads, build the characters and figure out what is going to happen in the end.
O.K., so I want to turn Janet Pulaski, the assassin, into a novel. The question is where to begin. So, these are just ten of the questions I needed to answer:
1. When does the novel take place? 2002
2. She’s wealthy beyond belief, so why would Janet come back into the assassin game? Working on it. Janet needs a cause and I’m in the process of crreting one.
3. For whom does she work? Good question. She’s retired and enjoying life and making love to her girlfriend. However, the Cubans want to blackmail her into working for her again. The Israelis and the CIA may want to take advantage of your skills.
4. Who’s the antagonist? There’s actually going to be three. One is a terrorist from Islamic Jihad. He’s the poster boy. Then there is a do-gooder FBI agent who wants to get her arrested. And, so far, 15K words into the manuscript, he hasn’t raised his ugly head. He/she is out there, I just haven’t created him or her.
5. Who are her “friends?” She’s going to make some new ones, some are being brought back from Forgotten. Let’s say the characters are evolving. Some are already “born” and others are in the “womb” and others aren’t even a gleam in my eye.
6. Where does the book take place? Mostly in the U.S., but there are passages in Brazil, Israel, Germany, France and Italy.
7. Does she have a love interest? Yes. Am working on it.
8. What about her former husband, the PoW? Not in the book. He’s remarried and started a new life. Could I bring him back, yes? But why?
9. What are her fears about coming back? Technology. Capabilities it brings to surveillance and searching for bogus identities. The rest is just tradecraft.
10. Is she still going to be a lesbian? Yes. That’s not going to change. The line I like most is what one reviewer wrote and that Janet Pulaski was a “badass, nymphomaniac lesbian assassin.” Love it and that's not going to change.