The good news is that Once Upon a Time in Iowa is moving along. I’d even say it’s progressing at a satisfying pace. With every word drawing me closer to the end, I can see how much work there still is to do.
I’m forever haunted by Chekhov’s gun.
You’re writing along, story’s going great, and…
You fire the gun and must figure out where and how to plant it
Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting anyone plant evidence at a crime scene. I’m just talking about Chekhov’s gun. Which, of course, makes the process sound so easy. After all, he hung the pistol on the wall in Act 1 then fired it in Act 2. If only it was that easy.
It’s not that there are no pistols hanging on the wall. It’s not even that they’re refusing to fire them. Nope, all my pistols are accounted for. So, where did they get the gun?
The farther along in the story I get, the more I get to know my characters. I think it’s that intimacy that leads to the firing of the gun I never planted. Back before I knew them so well, how could I ever have predicted such behaviors from them. All of a sudden, somebody pulls out a gun and fires it.
BANG! Where did that come from?
Expect the unexpected, right? That’s especially true in my writing. My characters say and do things all the time that I never predicted. Usually, it’s no big deal. Just revealing bits of their self through the natural flow of the story. Unless, of course, they make a reference to something that never happened.
What if someone makes an accusatory statement. “You always treat me like I don’t have a clue.” Whether true or not, the accused must have committed some actions to make the accuser feel this way. Even if the accused is totally clueless, — “Whatever do you mean?” — you want your reader to be able to say, “Now that you mention it, there were a few times.”
Notes in the margin
Once Upon a Time in Iowa started on the computer. It spent time in Microsoft Word then moved to Scrivener before returning to Word in pieces. More recent chapters have found themselves flowing the old fashioned way; paper and ink.
This is proving to be especially beneficial as I keep firing off these metaphoric guns. I simply write a note in the margin: go back and plant Chekhov’s gun.
Jesse fired the gun today
It all started when Jesse invited his friend — who appeared out of nowhere in the last chapter — to join them. Mary, being the sweetheart she is, swallows down her disappointment and encourages him to accept the invitation.
She convinces herself that maybe it’s an opportunity to hear some embarrassing stories about Jesse. After all, her family had found opportunity to embarrass her. Wait. What? When did this happen? It didn’t, by the way, but definitely could be entertaining.
This is the life of the panster
I can just hear the collective of planners saying, “This is why we plot out everything first.” Or maybe that’s just my own inner voice telling me I’m getting everything I deserve for letting the characters and story lead me wherever they may.
Yuck! Fix this!
I’m nearing the end. I can see the final moments in the distance. I have to stop myself from going back. I keep reminding myself that as soon as I reach the end I can start that first round of edits. That’s why I leave myself notes in the margin. Notes to remind me to plant my gun. Notes to remind me of the edits I already dreamed of. Notes to keep me from going backwards.
Recently, I wrote my favorite note of all; Yuck! Fix this! The arrow points to the offending section. No other notes or jotted ideas on how to fix it. Just my utter disgust at the sight of a paragraph that my pen vomited onto paper.
Are you haunted by Chekhov’s gun? Do your characters regularly pull out guns you didn’t give them? I’d love to hear your stories.