One particularly bothersome aspect of novel writing is what I call a “strand.” A strand is a gadfly. A mosquito that refuses to go away. A bee that occasionally buzzes too close OR it could be that wondrous ray of sun light that illuminates everything then suddenly disappears.
You are moving along. You have your plot outlined. You have copious notes in another file—very handy. Your characters are well defined. They have names. You have pictures of them. (Something I’ve never done, but I love the idea.) You have a meaningful sub plot. You’ve done the research. You’re writing five hundred words a day. But then, the strands make themselves known to you—often in strange places.
One night you wake up or just before you take that second sip of coffee the next morning or when you’re walking down the pet food aisle at Kroger wondering what snack you wanted to purchase for puppy—the scene comes to mind.
Your protagonist, Suzie, has driven to her ex-husband’s house. His name is Joe. They’ve been divorced for five years, now they’re good friends. Suzie is returning a book. Joe’s dog, Spot, gallops out to meet her. He wags his tail and barks once or twice. A startled redbird flies up into the cedar trees. Suzie goes to the door and knocks. Joe doesn’t come to the door—a young lady does. She is wearing Joe’s pajamas. Pajamas that Suzie recognizes—because she bought them years ago. The girl is slim, pretty. She laughs and flounces away to get “Joey.” Her youthful derriere jiggles as she walks.
This scene in your novel should not include the girlfriend. Or should it? The girlfriend is a strand. She could be there. She keeps cropping up, as it were. Who is she? She keeps getting in the way. Why is that? And later, there’s another strand…the neighbor who…what is it he does? He grins and waves. He has a tattoo on his neck, a lizard or a snake, something. He’s sitting in his car staring at Suzie. What’s that about?
Where are you going with that strand? Should you delete it? It’s not in your plot outline. Neither is the girlfriend. They’re not in the outline—the one you worked on for hours, days, weeks. But the tattooed neighbor shows up again in the novel. What page was that? That damned magazine article said if you have a PLOT OUTLINE this shit wouldn’t happen! So, so, so.
New re-writes don’t always help. They create more strands. Different strands. Like a fishing line that’s hopelessly tangled. You pull and pull and pull but the loopy strands just keep coming, keep getting stuck, creating more strands. It’s all confused. But, they could be important. It could be that ONE strand, if you pull it enough—slowly, cautiously, tease it out, then suddenly, the knot unravels, and everything makes sense.
Outside the window of my study, I see yellow leaves on the sweet gum tree. The sky is blue. Cody, lying by my chair, is asleep on the floor, snoring. The clock on book case is ticking, ticking, ticking. These things are disconnected, and yet, they all make sense. They all belong.
Any and all comments are welcome!