Years ago, when I was writing the first draft of God on Mayhem Street, I got bored. I had written about a third of the book and it lagged but I didn’t know why. Then it dawned on me — I had no idea what Jacob Landry, my antagonist, was up to. While some scenes had tension without my evil villain, most were downright dull. I needed to know what Jacob was doing, even if he wasn’t in the scene, and then put him in at just the right moment to make Leo’s life hell.
And boy is Jacob up to no good. He definitely drags Leo and his family through hell, but during that first draft, he gave me a headache. I knew he wanted to acquire the Townsend farm and I knew what drastic measures he’d take to get it, but I didn’t know why. He was keeping that a secret, even from me.
Luckily at the time, I had a deadline for another creative outlet. In Print, a professional writers’ organization, was having their first Word of Art event. As one of the featured artists, I was to paint my impression of a short story written by my good friend Rich Brandt.
I shoved Jacob aside and reached for my canvas, brush, and oils. Instead of focusing on devilish strategies, I concentrated on colors, patterns, and textural details. I used entirely different brain power which gave me a much-needed break.
When I went back to the book, now headache-free, I brainstormed ideas for Jacob’s motives, did some research, and came up with a doozy of a scenario. Damn if it didn’t all come together.
Something similar happened to me recently while working on the third draft of The Devil Particle. I came across two scenes that were also dull, slow-moving. The scenes were mostly dialogue, set in a conference room while the characters ate . . . whatever. I considered cutting the scenes, but the dialogue and the characters’ interactions were important to the story. Then it hit me — the problem was the setting.
There wasn’t anything particularly interesting or threatening about that conference room. The scene wasn’t a power struggle between a boss and an employee or a high-powered company takeover like in the movie “Working Girl”. Instead, it was a scene where teenaged Paul confronts his father.
Now you’re probably asking, “why a conference room?” And as I write this I agree — what was I thinking? So I moved the scene to Paul’s bedroom.
Okay, that may still sound dull, but in this case, Paul’s bedroom is in a tunnel ten stories below the cave city of Penchi. Have I got your attention? Good.
Realizing when my story drags and now having two possible explanations for why makes writing and editing a whole lot easier. And creating evil motives for diabolical characters and unusual settings forces me to stretch my imagination. Perfect exercises for a novelist!
**Soon you’ll be able to hear Jacob Landry carry out his evil plans! Next Friday, November 2nd, performs as Jacob Landry on the newly-released God on Mayhem Street and Carpe Diem, Illinois audiobooks!**