Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Process Examination #6: I'm Kellie Hazell, Reminding You to Help Control the Pet Population. Spay or Neuter Your Plot Bunnies Today.

Oy, the perils of the first three chapters. The brain is supplying ideas, various routes to get you from Point A to Point B, various morsels of character info that ratchet up conflict and promise for a big pay off. Beware the lure of the plot bunny.

I have not been successful in fighting the plot bunny temptation in my previous novels (and, no, I don't consider it an accomplishment to reach for the kitchen sink, pause, then decide against tossing it into the first act of the novel). Those bunnies are just so darn cute. You pick up a pair: protag and antag. And you examine their coats and decide they are perfect for the novel. You will enjoy watching these two square off, detailing their triumphs, their failures, their every single nose twitch and tail wiggle. Every hop will have significance, every nibble of the carrot. Then you step away for a moment, your attention on finding just the right novelty item to put in the cage with them to enhance their surroundings. Only when you turn back to the bunny cage, you find that there are suddenly quite a bit more than 2 bunnies in there. But you can tell how they sprang into existance, what traits of the parents they kept, how they provide so much more context and conflict and depth to the story.

So you get a bigger cage for the little beasties and write away, not missing a single juicy detail. Somewhere in there are your original bunnies with their particular story to tell. You may even develop that appropriately in and around your meticulous recounting of the progeny's antics. But your reader probably isn't going to have much luck finding that thread or giving it greater weight then the rest of the stuff you've shoved on her, and she's probably not going to be able to develop a coherent story question to carry with her as she reads.

The Plot Bunny Problem crystallized the concept of the story question for me, actually. I always understood what was meant by a story question: it's what you want your reader to be asking about the story, usually by the end of the first page, definitely by the end of the first chapter. Will the hero beat the bad guy? Will the heroine and hero get together? Will the protag learn that family isn't just about bloodlines? But I didn't understand just how powerful that story question needed to be and that even directly related information and questions can dilute it, especially in those first three chapters. In order to figure that out, I had to get somebody to critique the rough, rough first three chapters. Sure enough, my critter asked a whole bunch of story questions, two of which were what he needed to be worried about in that chunk of text. But he couldn't tell that. And I really couldn't see the problem with the other questions until he gave them equal weight to the important ones.

Now for my next process dilemma: to rewrite based on that critique or to move forward? I think the first antag POV chapter will help clarify this in my mind.

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