Sunday, May 9, 2010

Preliminary Notes For This World We Live In

Yesterday, while spring cleaning, I discovered three pages of pre-writing notes for This World We Live In. The third of the pages is a post-facto outline of Life As We Knew It. Apparently (since I have no memory of doing any of this), I wanted to make sure there was enough material for TW by figuring out how many incidents there were in LAWKI.

I remember where I was (Storm King Arts Center) when I came up with the idea of having Lisa kill Charlie at the end of TW. Since there's no Charlie in this outline, this version must predate that.

My handwriting has never been good, but the older I get, the worse it gets, so I'll type the TW material for anyone who is interested in reading it. I suppose it could be qualified as spoiler, so if you haven't read TW yet, and do intend to, and don't want to know what doesn't for the most part happen, then avert your eyes.

Easter Apr. 16

Things I anticipate happening

1 Dad, Lisa, Julie, baby, boy show up

2 Big fight- Matt & Lisa

3 Big fight- Dad & Matt

4 Trip to FAF house. Julie stays/goes

5 Tornado- Mrs. Nesbitt's house destroyed

Mom cries

6 Breaking into people's houses- minister's house (?)- finding food cache

7 Fishing scene

8 Anniversary date

9 Miranda spends first night alone in room

10 Food deliveries stop

11 Relationship with Dan's father- he comes over for dinner- he dies and leaves his food to Miranda

12 At food delivery, ask what's going on-

group studies at someone's house

Sat- soccer match

help with food distribution

13 At one place, Miranda is given clothes including prom dress of girl who was married off

14 At one place, most likely soccer
someone drops dead

15 basement floods- Matt collapses face down in flooded basement. M pulls his head out-
she & Jon get him upstairs

Matt refuses to regard himself as invalid, but M is terrified he's going to die- then soccer
field incident

A couple of things might call for explanation. I used the same calendar for Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone, and This World We Live In (2005-06, I think), and I wanted to make sure TW took place after Easter. So I wrote down the date of Easter so I'd know to begin the action after that.

It took me a little while yesterday to figure out what FAF was, and then I broke my own code. It's Fresh Air Fund. I had put into d&g that the Morales family had been Fresh Air Fund kids (for those unfamiliar with the Fresh Air Fund, it's a New York City group that provides summer vacations in the country for city kids). When I was working out d&g, I had thought it possible that whichever of the Morales kids survived, might end up going to their Fresh Air Fund family, and that family might live fairly close to Miranda and her family.

Todd Strasser was the one who suggested fishing for shad to me, and I guess I intended to have Miranda go on the fishing trip. I don't fish and have no interest in learning about it, which is why I sent Matt and Jon off without her.

About half a dozen of the possible plot points end up in some form or another in TW. What really intrigues me about this outline is the complete lack of Alex. I bring in a boy with Dad and Lisa and Julie, but I don't give who he is or what he does any thought at all. I do have a vague recollection of trying to work Dan's father into the story. Dan left during LAWKI, and his mother had been ill, so I guess I killed her off between books, and Miranda somehow bumps into Dan's father, and they establish a bond.

In its way, this is a much jollier version of TW than the one I ended up writing. It's far more social. Dan's father comes for dinner, people (presumably Miranda and Jon and other kids their age) study outside of their home, Miranda helps distribute food, she's given clothes, and there's a soccer game. As far as prom dresses go, I had a second version of that on a post-it for a while. Dad, Miranda, Julie and maybe Alex, spend a night at a deserted shopping mall, and Miranda tries on prom dresses. I figured people would ransack shopping malls but would be unlikely to take prom dresses. I pictured Miranda and Dad dancing in the mall, so maybe Alex and Julie weren't there. In which case, I have no idea why Miranda and Dad were.

The one theme which is constant both in this outline and in the final version of TW is how to get food. Feeding the characters was a constant concern for me in all three books. There had to be enough food so that they didn't starve to death but no guarantee that there'd be any food in a day or two. But the books couldn't be continuous lists of what food there was and what food they dreamed of. Five of the fourteen things I list are food related, which probably is about the same percentage as ended up in the real TW.

It was fun for me to find these pages and a real inspiration to keep on with the spring cleaning. Who knows what other treasures I'll dig up. Stock certificates. Winning lottery tickets. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!


Unknown said...

Woah. That would have been a seriously different TW. I'm intrigued. Was there still going to be the leaving scene at the end of the book in this early version? Really intesting notes, thanks for putting them up


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi qwertyuiop (aka Jon which is much easier to spell)-

I don't want to swear there was going to be a leaving scene at the end of that early version, but my guess is that there would have been. I don't think I would have been able to come up with a way the LAWKI family could have been self sustaining for very long.

I was really glad to find those notes (not that I remembered them). It was fun for me to see what I used and what I discarded and what I totally ignored!

exBFF said...

Thank you for sharing this stuff with us. I so enjoy your work that glimpses of its genesis is a real treat!


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello to exBFF/david-

I found the pad with the notes in the end table by the chair I always sit in (and so does Scooter) in the living room. So my guess is I was watching TV and worrying about whether I had enough action planned for the book.

Then I must have slipped the pad down where I keep magazines and forgotten all about it.

Spring cleaning is like an archeological dig around here!

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping you find a ton more great finds!!

It's nice to know that another author's first thoughts about a novel don't end up being the final thoughts.

-Another Susan

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi susancolebank-

I can't imagine first thoughts being final thoughts.

If they were, if there were no evolution of story and characters during the process, it would be so boring!

Friendly Neighbourhood Bookseller said...

I always love looking back at old notes and seeing how things change as they're written. This is probably why, when I was doing essays in school, I used to leave space at the top for my plan and come back and fill it in afterwards, when I knew how the story went...
I'd be interested to read any other old notes you may come across!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Good morning Friendly Neighbourhood Bookseller (which is more like good afternoon to you)-

I hope you're avoiding the return of the volcanic ash.

I used to do chapter outlines, making sure each chapter had at least one event in it, but with the Moon books, the chapters were imposed on them after the books were written.

So it clearly was important to me to make sure there was some activity going on, even though I did change most of what I thought would happen.

My word verification is "murse." I guess that's a cross between "muse" and "nurse," both of which are essential for creativity!

Friendly Neighbourhood Bookseller said...

I'm not going anywhere right now, though my father is planning on a holiday in a month or so. Fingers crossed?

Murse is also a derogatory term for a male nurse, I believe. As is "Ha! He wasn't smart enough to be a doctor so he has to be a murse!" Personally, I think making fun of anyone in the medical profession is a bit stupid, 'specially if you're a patient...

My word is emitede. I seem to remember a droid in a Star Wars novel called Emtedee...