Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Improving on an Idea

Le Coin du Village 1926--Valerius de Saedeleer-1876-1946 Martin Luther King day was a school holiday for my children. The evening before, I got an email from my friend. “Could we set the girls up with a playdate at our house tomorrow? How about early afternoon? I have a doctor’s appointment at 3:00.”

I wrote back, typing quickly. “Sure. We’ll pop by around 12:30. Thanks!”

I continued working on some other emails, a blog post, and part of my book. Then I suddenly stopped. Wait. My friend has a doctor’s appointment. On a day when there’s no school. Oh. It would be better if the playdate were at our house and during her appointment! I called her the next morning and she was so delighted not to have to take her daughter to the appointment.

Sometimes I’m really slow.

This is why, when I’m trying out a new idea, a new plotline, or a new character, I take a minute to consider all the angles.

Maybe the protagonist has a friend who was this interesting, street-preaching card shark with a fine art collection…he could make an interesting informant and this quirky sideline character. (I’m just making this up as I go along, y’all—I know you’re thinking, “This doesn’t sound like a Myrtle Clover or a Memphis BBQ book to me!”)

Or maybe it would be better if the murder victim were this person. Then the suspects could be drawn from different worlds—from the gamblers, from the art lovers, from the impassioned evangelists.

Could the murderer be this oddball character? It might be a good cover. The person seems so innocuous and fun—but they’re really deadly.

Or maybe the protagonist could be the preaching, art-collecting gambler? And his good friend who bridges two of the three worlds is murdered—which could provide a believable reason for him to do some sleuthing.

You can go through this same process with things besides characterization. Try it with setting. Maybe you have two characters who need to discuss something. You’ve got them going to a diner—wait. You always have them in a diner. Let’s make it someplace really different this time: Chuck E. Cheese. A perfect place to meet with an informant or to have a drug deal because all the mommies there are way too distracted to be suspicious of underhanded activity.

Or maybe you’re sick of characters meeting over food, period. Your protagonist decides to question the underworld informant at his office—which just happens to be a well-respected CPA firm.

This is easy to do with plot, too. You could take a tired scene—the heroine going down into the spooky, allegedly deserted basement. The reader is probably pretty sick of that approach, you decide. So what if she turns the handle of the basement door…just to make sure it’s locked. But it’s not and some depraved creature slams against the other side of the door, forcing itself into her sunny, happy kitchen with the rooster wall clock and polka-dotted dishtowels.

The more I take an idea and twist it, the more interesting it usually gets. And I’ve usually given the scene, character, or setting more depth and freshness.

How do you improve on your original plan or idea?