Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drop Dead Sexy

By Martha Reed

I warn everyone that I meet that I come with a disclaimer: I am a writer, and I will use everything you give me. Tell me the funny story about your grandmother’s thumb, or the odd thing about your dog, and somehow, somewhere, I will find a use for it. I mine human foible; it’s what makes my characters human. When I’m asked if my writing is autobiographic I reply: well, yes, sort of. None of my characters are actually based on any one person, but give me a funny line or goofy situation and you might end up in my next story.

Here’s the perfect example. I have two characters, John Jarad, and Sarah Hawthorne. In my story, they haven’t met yet. John’s a police lieutenant and he’s just broken off his engagement to a local girl. He’s not interested in meeting anyone else just now, thank you very much. Sarah has also broken her engagement and she’s run away to Nantucket to bury herself in work. As the omniscient author, I - of course - arrange for them to meet nicely at the end of Chapter Eight. Except for a snag: they’re still not interested. Yikes! How do I resolve this?

The answer came to me on the street today. If you live in Pittsburgh, you’ve been chilled, damp, and probably knee-deep in mud for the last three days. As I was heading back to the office I saw a twenty-something woman walking toward me with her bare arms wrapped tightly around her body – she was in a light spring dress and severely underdressed for the weather. Directly in front of me, a twenty-something man met up with her – it became obvious they were meeting for lunch – and in the smoothest, drop dead sexy move I’ve seen a years he took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. Pure Cary Grant. It was obvious she wasn’t expecting his gesture – who does that anymore? But she was clearly delighted – her face lit up. I could even see that she was thinking: He likes me! And I thought: Ah-ha! That’s how I get John and Sarah together, because underneath it all John is a gentleman, and he would offer Sarah his coat if she looked chilly, and she would wake up to the fact that this gesture was thoughtful and his jacket was warm and smelled of quality aftershave, and she would take a look at this great cool guy and they would get together, and hey, I’m saved!

Which brings me to the question I want to ask other writers: when you find yourself at a crossroad, a hurdle in your plotline, do you go ‘find’ a solution or do you wait for one to show up?

If it’s a matter of research, I do go find the solution, but I’ve noticed that when I hit a snag about a character’s motivation that if I just give it a little time and keep my eyes open, a nifty human response-based example will usually fall into my lap. The next question is did I see the interaction on the street today because it was meant to happen like serendipity? Or did I only notice it because I was looking for it? And have you seen any drop dead sexy moves lately?

18 comments:

Tory said...

Can't say I've seen any drop-dead sexy moves lately. Sorry.

But I will say, that trying to force the next step in a story with my rational mind never works. Sometimes, like the "accident" scene I'm currently writing, I have to wait around for something to spark. Other times I sit down at the computer and find, to my surprise, that something comes.

Joyce said...

I've found that I have to let the characters find their own way. If I try to force it, it never works.

I haven't seen any drop-dead sexy moves either.

Martha Reed said...

Maybe drop dead sexy moves are out of fashion? Politically incorrect? Has anyone seen female drop dead sexy move lately?

Annette said...

There seems to be a shortage of drop dead sexy anything lately. I have nothing to contribute to that one, either.

However, I, too, have found the answer to a writing issue out in the real world. I suspect serendipitous moments most often happen when you're open to seeing them.

Gina said...

No drop-dead sexy here, either.

Never underestimate the power of dreams. I find that when I'm stuck, ideas often show up while I'm sleeping.

JennieB said...

I married drop dead sexy, so I'm good there. And unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of waiting around for things to resolve themselves, either. Three books in eighteen months comes to one due to the publisher every six months, and with that kind of schedule, I can't sit around and wait for the muse to grace me with his presence. I'll write something, anything, and change it later if I have to. If I get truly stuck, I'll cut back to before I wrote whatever I'm stuck on, and go off in a different direction entirely.

Joyce said...

I think I'd be too tired for drop-dead sexy anyway.

You're right, JB. I like to take the muse and tie her to the chair.

martha Reed said...

I read an interesting article this past weekend where an author said she was working as a commercial writer and realized if she could make a living doing that she could write fiction and make a living. I'm not sure I have the nerve to walk away from my job, and from what I'm hearing I'm not sure you can make a living at writing anymore. For those who are earning a living, how much output do you have to come up with? Like Jennie wrote, 3 books in 18 months? Is that the current norm?

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Several years ago while on a cruise I saw a young woman dancing with her boyfriend (?). The song was "The Bad Touch by The Bloodhound Gang (you might know it as the Dicovery Channel song). I'd classify this girl as cute, not beautiful, but, the way she danced and teased her boyfirend on the dancefloor, it was drop dead sexy.

I still see her every time I hear that song.

I've been at a corssroad with my 2nd novel for about a month. No matter how hard I pushed, I couldn't come up with a solution. Two days ago, on a long walk with my beautiful wife, it came to me. I couldn't wait to get home to start writing again.

JennieB said...

Martha,
three books in 18 months is not the norm. I asked for that schedule. Bestselling authors (of which I'm not one, and don't expect to be anytime soon, if ever) are expected to produce a book every year, pretty much. When you get to super-bestselling, you don't have to, but it still pays. You don't want your fans to forget about you! I figured, since I can write quickly and since I'm not getting any younger, that the sooner I could get all three books out there, the better. I wanted to go on a 6-month publication schedule - a book in the stores every six months - but Berkley said no. So it's every nine months instead. After this, if they give me another contract, I'll ask for more time, though. This is too hectic. And for the record, I'm not making a living. Not even close. And it isn't because I have expensive tastes, either.

Judy Schneider said...

Great post, Martha! I love the fact that the young man didn't ask if she wanted the jacket. He assumed the role of protector and dove right in. I love it!

Drop dead sexy moment: When CMU professor Randy Pausch (author of The Last Lecture) picked up his wife and carried her off the stage after his commencement speech this past weekend. Gives me the chills. Beautiful!

JB, thanks for the insight. Makes me think twice about rehashing some of the scenes in my WIP. I just need to write them and move on. Thanks!

Martha Reed said...

Judy, I saw Randy Pausch lecturing on YouTube where he thanked his wife. It's sad to think that dying is giving him an appreciation for what he has. He is an inspiration for the rest of us, and I urge everyone to hear his lecture series - it's deeply moving.

JennieB said...

You are so very welcome, Judy. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, though, you know. What works for me (and you), may not work for someone else. There are people out there who don't write chronologically, which just blows my mind. They'll write the beginning, then the end, then a scene here and scene there. The mind boggles.

Joyce said...

There are a few thriller/romantic suspense writers who write 3-6 books a year. There's no way I could do that. I could handle a book a year, or a book every 9 months.

Joyce said...

I have to write chronologically, too. I usually have an idea of how the book will end, but I don't write it until I get to that point. I would be so confused if I wrote things out of order!

Martha Reed said...

That brings up the other question about writing style: outline or organic? I'm organic, although I do sort of know where I'm going. I can't imagine writing by outline - where's the fun? But I know some folks do it. You're right, it takes all kinds!

Joyce said...

I work better with a loose synopsis. Nothing too detailed.

I tried a detailed outline for my last manuscript and ended up tossing it out halfway through. My characters refused to cooperate and didn't want to follow the outline. The nerve of them!

JennieB said...

Organic. Definitely. As you say, what's the fun if you already know what's gonna happen? With that said, I can definitely see where an outline can be helpful. The first draft is probably a lot cleaner, and there are probably a lot less drafts, total. For myself though, I just can't do it.