Monday, February 15, 2010


Alexander Deineka---Young woman-- 1934 You wouldn’t think those three inches of snow we got Friday would make such a mess of the roads. The brine and the melting, muddy snow was tossed up on my car from cars and trucks and sent me off to the car wash Sunday.

As I do any time I’m waiting for longer than 5 minutes, I pulled out my notebook and started writing, right there in the car wash waiting room. I even had a handy dandy note to myself at the top of the page, to remind me where I needed to pick up the story.

A couple of minutes later, someone plopped down in the seat next to me. This was a little annoying to me, since the car wash waiting room had plenty of extra seats. But I’ve gotten really disciplined, so I kept writing without even looking up.

“Hi babe,” said this really odd voice. I leaned way over to the right, away from the weird man and continued writing (although I was pretty sure I was writing complete crap by now.)

“Come here often?” asked the strange voice. “Whatcha writin’?”

I drew in a deep breath and looked up, scowling in a most discouraging, icy, and—I hoped—unattractive way.

And saw my husband grinning at me.

I could have wrung his neck. He’d done a great job disguising his voice and wasn’t supposed to be there—but he was getting his car inspected next door (North Carolina has annual emissions and equipment testing) and had seen me drive in, so he’d walked over.

We had a nice little conversation…although, technically, he was keeping me from my goal. My plan was to get some work done in the 15-20 minutes that it took to wash and vacuum my car. It was a very small hiccup in my plan to fit writing in on a chaotic Sunday, but I had been thwarted. In the nicest possible way, of course.

I realized, later, that I’ve written a lot of little hiccups in my plots, too. It doesn’t always have to be Lex Luthor armed with Kryptonite to temporarily keep a protagonist from their goal and create a little stress. Yes, I have a killer on the rampage, throwing up all kinds of roadblocks and determined to keep my sleuth from finding out his identity. But there are other small obstacles for discovering the truth.

It can be an ordinary or trivial thing that takes the day on a new path:

An unexpected visit by a well-meaning friend.

A long phone call.

Car trouble.

Power outage.

Computers that aren’t working.

Characters who discourage or doubt our protagonist’s abilities.

A broken alarm clock.

Poor health.

Lies our protagonist believes are truths (my suspects lie to my sleuth all the time.)

These are little bumps in the road…but they make believable conflicts that can put our protagonist at the wrong place at the wrong time, send them off in an unproductive direction, or temporarily keep them from their goal.

You still have the main conflict going on in the background. We still need the Lex Luthors in the story. But it’s great to work in extra bits of conflict, delays, and distractions, too.

And the nice thing is that readers won’t even think our storyline hiccups farfetched.

Because our days are full of distractions.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

So true, Elizabeth. And putting into our manuscripts the little distractions that plague our daily lives makes the story so much more believeable and real to the reader.

Geez, no one ever says "Hi babe" to me at the car wash. Maybe I need a new car wash.

Alan Orloff said...

Well said, Elizabeth. Distractions are very "relateble." I mean, who isn't distracted? (Darn that Internet!)

I'm impressed you have time to go to the car wash. I don't think I've been to one in this millennium. Of course, if I were to wash all the road gunk off my cars, I don't think I'd recognize them.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sue Ann--"Plagued" is right!

It never happens to me in a car wash either. Unless my husband is there! :)

Alan--We need to disconnect from the internet, don't we. Darn that Al Gore!! :)

Well, the Odyssey had reached a stage of unprecedented filth, so it was definitely time. Seeing out the back window IS important...

Alan Orloff said...

You are much nicer to your Odyssey than I am to mine.

Cricket McRae said...

I meant to leave a comment earlier, but I was distracted by a long phone call AND a visit from a friend.

Back to work...

G.M. Malliet said...

Cricket - LOL. That was my day...

Keith Raffel said...

Elizabeth, my first book I wrote most anywhere from my desk at work, in bed when ill, in airplane seats, in waiting rooms, etc. Now I'm spoiled -- especially compared to you. I need my internet-free cafe and green tea to write.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Alan--I'm trying to be kind to it in its old age. It has over 120,000 miles on it. :)

Cricket and G.M.--Y'all had nicer days than I did!

Keith--That sounds luxurious! And, yeah, it wouldn't work for me. I can only write under duress and abuse. I went to Disney World in September, sans kids, and couldn't get anything done in the silent hotel room. I think I've been conditioned.