Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Discovered a Secret

A funny thing happened while writing this exercise…I discovered a secret. Read on and I’ll explain …

Keeping a secret is the first thing I thought of when I started to write Emma’s Outlaw. My idea was to have an undercover Pinkerton Agent as the hero but this brought up a whole list of criteria about the Agency I wasn’t ready to deal with in this story.

Back in 1879, dime novels were plentiful and easterners were lapping up stories of the American west. The idea of a journalist infiltrating an outlaw gang and sending the reports back for publication took hold and wouldn’t let go. But my hero, Dan, isn’t just a journalist, he’s William Daniel Danvers III, heir to the Danvers Publishing Company. Whenever Dan gets a chance, which is usually when he’s on guard duty, he sneaks his journal out and writes about the outlaw gang’s activities.

But I didn’t want Dan to have all the fun, so I gave Emma, my heroine, her own secret. In previous blogposts, I’ve mentioned the kit containing a paper, pencil and penknife Emma carries in a hidden pocket. After she’s kidnapped, she uses her wiles to write secret notes and hide them for the father she’s sure is on her trail.

These secrets allow me to create tension in a number of ways:

- Since Dan and Emma’s writings could lead to the arrest and conviction of the outlaws, there’s always the danger of discovery whenever they think they’re safe and alone.

- Although Dan and Emma have feelings for each other, they’re still on opposite sides of the law. Trust between them is elusive especially when each suspects the other knows their secret without realizing they could be harboring one of their own.

As I sat here thinking about how secrets create tension, it dawned on me that Dan has a doozie of a secret I hadn’t even touched upon in the story. Maybe some of you caught it from the reference above but I’ll repeat it here for those who didn’t:

My hero, Dan, isn’t just a journalist, he’s William Daniel Danvers III, heir to the Danvers Publishing Company.

The outlaws are holding Emma ransom until her family pays $10,000. This is a huge amount of money for 1879. There’s a chance her family can’t pay up. Yet they have a man in their midst who is heir to a publishing fortune! What will happen if Dan’s cover is blown and the outlaws find out who Dan really is?

This of course brings up all sorts of questions:

- Will Dan’s father pay the ransom?

- Will Dan fight his way out?

- Will Dan guess their suspicions and escape with Emma?

- Will they hold Dan hostage and let Emma go free?

- Will Emma rescue Dan (Oh, I like this one.)

Now that I have this added element, I can go back and incorporate it in the story. All I need to do is drop one or two little hints about Dan’s finances and leave it to the reader’s imagination to do the rest.

I honestly thought I wouldn’t learn anything from this exercise but I don’t mind being proven wrong.

So when was the last time you were wrong about something? Did you admit it? Hide it? Fibbed your way through? Come on, be honest…


Karyn Good said...

It's amazing what gold nuggets you can discover doing these exercises. I love the irony of the kidnappers having an even bigger prize in their midst without realizing it. You can do so much with that concept. BTW, I'm a fan of Emma rescuing Dan, too.

I remember a writing exercise on the SRW blog I wasn't sure about involving writing a scene in First Person POV and what I would get out of it. But I really helped me work through a stubborn scene. I would definitely try it again.

Janet said...

I have become a huge fan of exercises - not only to make me a better writer, but send me in a direction I never thought to take. Usually, that direction brings a better understanding to my story.

I, too, loved the first person POV exercise that Karyn is talking about. I use it now consistantly when I feel my writing is not in deep enough POV. It really works.

Loved the secret - and the irony, as Karyn said. And layering that in will add depth to your characters and your story. Emma's Outlaw is getting more and more intriguing, Anita.

Silver James said...

Oh, Anita! Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! EMMAS'S OUTLAW just gets better and better!

I love how these exercises work. I find myself incorporating them into my edits, even without actually doing them.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes Karyn, the idea of Emma rescuing Dan is very appealing and tempting. But it would mean revising more of my story than I already am and frankly, I'm running out of time. But if it makes a better story...

So I guess the question of the day could be: When does the tweaking stop?

Especially when 'they' say don't send it in until it's the best it can be.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet, I didn't do the POV exercise when the rest of you did it on the SRW blog. I'm beginning to thing I should have and maybe I will once I get this project out the door.

Thanks for the nice words, Janet.

uh...aren't you supposed to be at your new job? :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you, Silver, I appreciate you saying that.

Which brings me to Nano - I didn't get the revisions accomplished in Nov and will keep working on them. So I won't be sending you that nice Tracking Record we worked out. Once I get it perfected, I'll see if Karyn and Helena and any of the others who rec'd my original Word document want this new Excel one.

Janet said...

Ah - the job I do from home - on my computer - looking out the wndow at the beautiful ocean. Hard. To. Concentrate.

And as someone who's 'tweaking' Lady Bells, again - I hear ya, Anita. *sigh*

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I love the idea of Emma rescuing Dan, too. It's a nice twist and it'll show what Emma is made of.

When do you stop tweaking? When the book is on bookstore shelves (or in my case available for sale online). I'm only sort of kidding. Don't send it to the editor until you're convinced it's as polished and as good as you can make it. If you think this idea will add depth to the story, I think you should go for it. When I talked to Donald Maass in Surrey he said it didn't matter how long it took to send in my work, as long as it was polished.

Having said that, I totally understand that revision fatigue is setting in about now. You feel like if you have to revise one more word, you're gonna hurl. But just keep in mind how great this new idea will make the story.

Good luck.

Helena said...

When you think it's ready to go, put it away for a little while, and then take another look. Bet you will change it some more.

Incidentally, Lisa Rector had an excellent session at SiWC which she called 11th Hour Checklist. It was about what you should do when you think your ms is ready to go. I plan to do my next post on the topic. So stay tuned.

Love the secrets in your story, Anita. Now that you've given us a peek into your plot to add to the visual of the setting from those pictures you posted on your journey through outlaw territory, I know your story will really come alive when I read it. I can hardly wait.

Your NaNo revision project must be ahead of where you would have been otherwise, so I wouldn't quibble over how far you got by deadline. That's the "secret" behind these various weeks or months, I think. Get those writers motivated by hook or by crook (you can write cliches in messy first drafts!), just so long as they write and continue to write when the deadline has passed. (Is that a fair guess?)

I made up my own tracking sheet from your excellent tips on what would be useful. I couldn't open the document you sent before, and right now I wouldn't be able to receive it in Excel, so I'm okay. But thanks for being my guiding light!

Helena said...

Forgot to answer your questions, Anita!

I'm wrong so often I can't remember when or what it was the last time. I walk every day with a friend, and we are both pretty opinionated and we get into lots of discussions that verge on debate. I can get quite adamant about a point that I think I know for a fact, but of course there's no way to check it out on the country road at 6:30 am. So when I find out later I was wrong about something, I 'fess up.

It must have something to do with the reference librarian in me that makes me want to get things right. Even belatedly.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Poor Janet. I can feel the suffering you're going through. How you must wish you were back here on the flat, inspiring Prairies. No chance of sea sickness here.

Psst - can we move our spring retreat to your place? Hmm?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you Jana. Coming from a pubbed author, that's fantastic advice.

Janet spoke of tweaking Lady Bells again, too and I know she is really tired of it.

I'm not really tired of the story, just the process of revising. But then I've never been a big fan of editing/revising because I seem to rewrite so much. I know every rewrite improves it which is why I keep doing it and honestly, I'm very thankful that I keep getting these ideas.

I'm even more thankful for friends like all of you who've commented here today who tell me when I have or haven't a good idea. That means a lot.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Helena, I won't have time to set it aside this time so hopefully that will stop my tweaking habit.

Oh, I'm glad you're seeing Emma's story in your mind. Of course I have to be careful not to give too much away or there won't be any surprises left.

I appreciate your words over Nano. I've always felt Nano was more of the process of helping each other along, too. I think I'll mosey over to eHarl and see if Dee has continued on with a Dec mini Nano like she was doing since June. That will help.

And you didn't tell me you couldn't open my tracking doc. Tsk Tsk. Or maybe you did and it didn't sink in with me. Whatever it was, I'm glad you have one that works for you. And about the guilding light thing - you're welcome.

I'm looking forward to your next post. I thrive on checklists. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Helena, I like that image of you and a friend engaging in a debate as you walk. So good for the heart and mind.

Dontcha have the wind where you are? Seems the wind gets right in my throat as soon as I pass our shelterbelt.

I've always believed it's better to 'fess up...much easier to remember what happened in the long run. :D

Molli said...

Hi Anita. I thought I clicked on "publish" last night, but apparently not.
I like the way you worked through the options then looked at them with an open perspective. And I, too, like the idea of Emma rescuing Dan. Very interesting situation; I can certainly see why it has generated interest. Good luck with it.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Anita,
It just occurred to me, a little late, that it would be interesting if Emma rescues Dan, even if she believes he is an outlaw. It's one thing to fall in love with a person or to rescue them when you know that they are an upstanding person. But if she believes he's an outlaw, and she loves him and rescues him anyway, feeling in her heart that he is a good person, it speaks to her faith in him, her committment and to their future together.

Just my two cents.