One-third of the way through the month, and that wasn’t so bad, was it? Only six more days until a bonafide habit has been established. So the work is all for something, awesome. But it’s Day 10, so that means we’re well into the weeds of this project, and if the manuscript draft is a third of the way through, we’re at or nearing a transition. Exposition is over, and we’re in the meat of the story. For me, that means I’m focusing on scene work.
Back before November, I remarked that I draw maps of the places I write about, especially if I’m making them up. If I don’t see the setting clearly, neither will my readers, and then I haven’t given them enough to go on to keep enmeshed in the story. It’s not just a garden, it’s an expansive English garden, with a meticulous maintenance staff, or it’s a children’s garden filled with animal-shaped topiary, or a small nook off to the side of a crumbling house, kept up by a lonely widow who would list it as her last hobby because the rose bushes were planted by her late husband. I want to know whether the window in house tend to rattle in a storm even if it’s sunny in every scene of the book. It’s the level of detail in my mind and my notebook that makes me feel like I’m in a new place and gives me confidence that I can translate that universe to the story.
Scenes should get that much care. Every scene needs to have its own distinct beginning, middle, and end. Each character in the scene should have an intention for the scene, meaning an identifiable goal for each of them that they work on achieving for the whole scene. This isn’t supposed to pull the scene off-base; every scene is always about intention. Because I subscribe to the “show, don’t tell” society of writers, I only include scenes that I think the reader needs to see. Sure, in a first draft like we’re all writing this month, there may be pieces that are later struck as unnecessary. But even as we create the first pass manuscript, we should be thinking about who wants what from whom.
I can tell already that I need to make my protagonist’s goals more apparent to him. It’s mostly okay—he’s 14 at the start of the novel, so he’s not too clear on where he’s going—but to help people identify with him I have to go back at some point and make his wants more apparent.
At this point in my novel, he’s realizing that he’s not just thinking he’s jumping back in time, he’s back in time. I didn’t want to have any hokey “evidence” from the earlier epoch in the story, so I’m putting in cues like different language choices and attitudes that are no longer prevalent in culture. So in this scene, Jack is in the body of a young woman, a tomboy, trying to come to terms with the gender mismatch, as he meets up again with a young man he witnessed have a terrible accident as a boy:
Lucas’ father—his name was Mr. Van Doren—boiled water on the stove and brought it in to the bathroom where he mixed it with the much colder water from the tap.
“Here are some clothes,” he said, handing me a pile of dry fabric. “They’re men’s clothes but well, you wear those anyway.”
“Take your time,” he said, shutting the door behind him quietly. I swung the latch over the door, locking it.
Even though I didn’t relish the awful smell I’d taken on since landing in the compost pile, I was afraid to see this body up close. There was only so much leeway I could take, reminding myself that this was just a dream.
I undressed, making sure I was looking elsewhere, and I lowered myself into the claw-footed tub, relieved at the very hot water. A brick of soap looked hand cut and it smelled too much of perfume, but that was an advantage when dealing with eradicating the smell of rotten food and worm entrails. I breathed in the soap and washed my hair with it, not expecting any other toiletry product in here. I noticed that Jacqueline did seem to have a grown woman’s body at this point; it was certainly different than Jay’s girlie magazines presented. I felt the wider hips and softer muscle tone than my body had. Even objects were different when I held them in these hands. I dressed quickly, seeing how ill-fitting men’s underwear were on me, but I covered those in the clothes soon enough. I found a brush in the medicine cabinet and ran it through my hair, the way I’d seen my mother do. A good long look at myself in the mirror later, I went back into the kitchen to find Mr. Von Doren.
“I knew you’d come back,” I heard behind me, from the living room where I’d just been. I turned and saw a young man holding himself up on two braces, long bangs dangling in front of his eyes in a way that I presumed annoyed him.
“I suppose it has been some time, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, it has. How are you?” I winced because I’d asked yet another dumb question. He was standing on braces, of course he wasn’t fine.
“I’m well, thank you. It’s really good to see you again.”
“How is that even possible? I made you fall out of a tree.”
“What,” he asked, frowning. “I had one of my episodes, that’s all. I knew better than to put myself in danger.”
“Episodes?” The truth was dawning on me, along with the morning light.
“Sure. I had a brain problem as a child. But that’s all behind me now.” He came closer, walking more on his arms than his legs.
“Well, I’m sorry you had the lasting damage from that with these crutches.”
Lucas laughed and didn’t seem in the least annoyed with me. “I recovered just fine after the accident, Jacqueline. These are from polio.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I’m sorry about that, and if I hurt you after your fall.”
“People get polio, it’s just how life is,” said Lucas. “As for you, well. Jacqueline, you saved my life. I owe you everything.”
Are the intentions clear? Well, if not, that’s why it’s my focus today, as I get through the next chapter of the book. Intentions, for their part, don’t have to be big deals; a character can simply be parched and need a drink of water before moving on to her next intention or goal. But they need to be in the writer’s mind just as much as knowing the floor plan of the house the characters are occupying, and in as much detail.