So… I’m not sure whether NEXT BOOK is any good, because I’m at the point of the writing process where I’ve become very aware of the differences between the words I wrote down and the vision/emotion/experience I had in my head (one is an overwhelming sensation and the other is, like, a description of that sensation in story form).
But I’m also at the point in the process where I have enough words in the draft that I can start making them match up with established plot mechanics (while taking out the words that don’t belong in the plot), so I’m trusting that this round of revision will get me to the next stage of the process.
So, for the first chapter of the story, I need to make sure that every word in the draft fits this framework:
Because Ellen feels stuck in a caregiving role, she wants to find ways of separating herself from her family.
She tries doing a Solstice ritual to celebrate something that isn’t her family’s unfulfilling Christmas routine,
But the ritual doesn’t make her feel better.
Ellen assumes she will be tied to her family forever.
There are, by the way, hundreds of ways I could have gotten from “Ellen feels stuck and wants to separate herself from her family” to “Ellen assumes she will be tied to her family forever.” That’s the opening of innumerable stories, from Coco to Howl’s Moving Castle to the Elton John movie I saw with my parents last weekend.
But the in-between bits are all different, as are the upcoming inciting incidents. Miguel* steals Ernesto’s guitar, Sophie uses the witch’s spell as an excuse to walk away from the hat shop, and Reginald Dwight changes his name to Elton John—all choices that make them invisible to their families (technically, Miguel and Sophie have invisibility thrust upon them) and able to pursue their own destinies.
Ellen, as you already know from everything I’ve written about this book, has the opportunity to walk through a door into another world.
The real question—and the one that I’ll have to ask myself at some point—is whether the Solstice ritual is the right element to include in this exposition. It doesn’t have anything to do with the plot itself; it’s like Annie trying and failing to escape via Mr. Bundles’ laundry cart before Grace Farrell shows up. Annie could have tried to escape in a hundred different ways, and so could Ellen.
The important thing is the part where Ellen tries and fails (because this sets her up to be receptive to the Mysterious Stranger who offers her something she can’t get on her own), and the method Ellen tries should tell us something about her character.
So. Given that this book is very specifically set at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019 (we open on the eve of the government shutdown), and that I wanted to establish that Ellen was searching for the proverbial Something More, well… experimenting with a faith tradition that is not her own but that has very deep roots and is experiencing a cultural resurgence makes sense, as a choice.
Is it the best choice? Are there readers who are going to be immediately turned off by the experimenting aspect? How do I balance that against the readers who might recognize themselves in Ellen’s actions? That’s a question I’m going to have to consider, at some point.
But I think I’m going to let the question and its inevitable answer percolate until the next round of revisions. Right now I’m solidifying the construction of this big ol’ mystery house and its other-world-portal doors; later I can decide whether it needs new wallpaper. ❤️
*I always want to call Miguel “Coco,” just like I always want to call Link “Zelda.”