Friday, February 1, 2008

And Hast Thou Slain The Bleakity Bleak?

I'm in an frabjous mood.

About an hour ago, I was in anything but, since I had a plot problem with Possible Third Book that I was finding very aggravating. It was the direct result of how I've been working this book out, figuring out a bit of the story here and a bit there. I'm pretty sure that's how I worked out Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone, since all three books are similar in structure (big set pieces surrounded by little incidents).

The problem today was this morning I aligned a number of the set pieces so they made structural sense. Only once I got everything neatly in place, I realized the set up I needed for the very big set piece of Will gets taken to town and maybe even hung was totally shot.

I whined. I pouted. I answered e-mails. I started and stopped a blog entry. I complained to total strangers. I ate lunch and then whined and pouted some more.

And then, of course, I solved the problem. Which is why my mood is so frab.

The challenge with P3B, as I have said ad nauseum, is keeping the bleakity bleak to a socially acceptable level. What I may have only hinted at to you, oh beloved slowly gained readership who's been helping me a lot with your comments, is what Caitlin's position is as understudy in the troupe. I've been keeping it to myself because I've had to figure out how much bleakity bleak I could put in and how much was excessive even by my standards.

It's like this, or at least I think it's like this. In LAWKI and d&g, the main characters suffer like crazy. Hunger, disease, loss of loved ones, cold, misery, and general bad times. But the stuff they go through is pretty much the stuff everyone is going through. d&g is more class conscious than LAWKI, but no one has it easy.

In P3B, my set up has always been that Caitlin comes from a privileged family. whether her father's been a dentist or a doctor (he's back to dentist), or whether she's had a stepmother or not (currently not). I've expended a vast amount of energy (not calories, alas, but energy nonetheless) on how to show just how privileged Caitlin is in this three years after LAWKI ends world. But the more I showed it, the more bleakity bleak things got, and while I was clearly having a great time showing the suffering of 95% of humanity so we could see how lucky Caitlin was to be in the other 5%, it really wasn't furthering the story along, and it was certainly making things seem less realistic than LAWKI and d&g.

So I cleared much of that bleakity bleak out, simplifying the set up, and making things more family oriented. Caitlin still joins the troupe to avoid marrying a man so dreadful that his working name is Mr. Hinkler, but it's more a teenage act of rebellion against her father than a reasoned approach to her situation. And the suffering masses hardly figure at all in it.

But what happens next is Caitlin discovers (as do the readers) that being the understudy essentially puts her in the same league as those suffering masses. In some ways, she's an understudy as we would know the role- she learns the lines and the songs and has to be prepared to go on stage with very little notice. But as the understudy, she's also expected to do the grunt work ( like washing everyone's clothes, a job she never had to do before). In addition, this group of six teenagers is a clique that she will never be able to be part of. Partly this is because these kids have been on the road together for several months before Caitlin arrives. But mostly it's because she's the fourth or fifth (I haven't decided yet) understudy. In a world where 95% of humanity is starving and cold, it's not that hard to find teenage girls who are willing to carry a tune and a bucket of water in exchange for food.

This is why Caitlin is sent into the woods, with or without a knife, in spite of the fact the woods are dangerous. No one really cares if she's going to come back alive. If she does, fine. If she doesn't, they'll simply get a new understudy the same way they got her. It's like she's a private and everyone else is a colonel or a general. They're all in the same army together, but the private gets the KP.

Getting the balance so that Caitlin is both part of the group yet outside it has been very tricky. I didn't want the book to be Caitlin The Suffering Understudy Slave (if you want a quick laugh, read that in a Daffy Duck voice). But it was essential to the story that I want to tell for Caitlin to discover she' s expendable, exactly the same as all those suffering masses she never gave a moment's thought to. The fear she feels has to be different from that of Miranda and Alex. They're loved and Caitlin isn't.

I think I have it in place now. I've been writing notes on the computer (similar to the notes for d&g I have that link for), and I believe I'm ready to do the equivilent of my chapter outline, using pen and paper to write down each big event in chronological order. The characters are finally falling in place (although I do have to say Tyler has no redeeming social value at this point, and I'd better give him some or else there are going to be a lot of angry readers that he survives and Will gets carted off to the coal mines). There's still room to maneuver and places for me to surprise myself, but I can see starting to write P3B as soon as ten days from now.

And that's pretty darn callooh callay.


Marci said...

So dya think you'll be done writing it by your birthday?

Was Caitlin a cheerleader before the meteor hit? Was she one of the popular crowd? Is she a spoiled brat?
I'm having trouble with the marriage element. Can't she be running away from something else? Maybe her father remarries and she can't stand the new wife. And all of her friends are gone, either dead or moved away and her boyfriend joins the military (or police or whatever) and becomes a horror and she can't take it and she leaves.

I'm a trouble maker.

Anonymous said...

Hey! What's going on with the slowly gained readership?

And I think you should make this book your magnum opus, say... 500 pages or so. We fans won't stand for anything less. Who is with me? Uh... Anyone?


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Marci and the once again anonymous Glen-

d&g is about 30 pages shorter than LAWKI and I think that's an excellent trend. Look for P3B to be about 27 pages (each one a masterpiece).

Actually, I have no idea how long the manuscript will end up being. My philosophy is write as much as it takes the tell the story, and if it's too long, someone will let me know.

I too have noticed the suddenly quiet slowly gained readership. Perhaps it's tired of P3B discussions and wants me to return to bragging.

And who am I to deny it what it wants?

Anonymous said...

I think it was all the Lewis Carroll references that squashed the comments on this particular blog.

My guess is they're 'fraid of the Jabborwock.

I remain yours in anonymity...