Recently, my critique partner challenged me to write about the impetus of Foretold—book two in the Ghost Gifts Novels. She wanted me to expound on the propulsion, driving force, and energy behind the story.
I blinked at the question like she’d shone a bright light into my eyes. Impetus? I’d agreed to write this book and a third inside 18 months. How much more impetus did I need? Don’t ask me to drive to Logan airport (anywhere, really, that involves traffic and directions), give talks in front of podiums, or conquer Algebra. But I am Swiss watch reliable, even perpetually early. I would get it done.
This wasn’t the motivation to which she was referring. Authors are thrilled by opportunity. Or more to the point, stunned. Opportunity is such a rare commodity in our trade. But even the grandest of chances can’t drive a story. It won’t get your words out of neutral.
I’ll go one step further: novels aren’t influenced by the story we want to tell. That avenue is often stymied by any number of boundaries, i.e., not knowing Paris well enough to use the city as a setting or wanting to cast a heroine who’s a heart surgeon, unless heart surgeon happens to be your day job.
The best book writing is about compulsion—the story we need to tell. Second and third Ghost Gifts novels were not a compulsion but a request. Technically, these books were a business deal. Honestly? The idea to continue Aubrey Ellis’s story didn’t even come from my publisher. It came from readers. While this was fantastic encouragement, it also could not substitute for compulsion.
Karin, my critique partner, is a smarter writer than me, slightly savvier when it comes to life’s little nuances. For example, she gushed about the movie Lady Bird, insisting I should go see it. My response? “Did the wife of our 36th president really make for that interesting of a story?”
Wisely, Karin never asked her impetus/Foretold question while I was writing the book. I would have frozen like a January kitchen pipe, with the above thoughts crashing down on me. She is also very kind and simply did her job, pointing out positives and pitfalls as I wrote the draft.
So it was only post publication that Karin posed the impetus question, which, I admit, became a thought-provoking, after-the-fact query.
Here’s what I learned:
Every writer feeds off the idea of peril; every writer knows the drill: What does your character want? How many roadblocks can you put up to keep her from achieving it? Aubrey Ellis, Ghost Gifts main character, wants a normal life. It’s a simple premise thwarted by a complex gift—one she couldn’t alter or shed, like the color of her eyes. The idea created more roadblocks than a California mudslide.
Foretold’s impetus may have been subconscious, veiled by the driving force of a deadline. But looking back, I realize precisely my inner momentum. I was not attached to Aubrey like other characters I’d conceived—Flynn in Beautiful Disaster or Olivia in Unstrung. I am fiercely protective of both—the reasons why belong in a different blog. But I also realized I’d never write another word about these characters. They live finitely on their pages, their wants and roadblocks resolved for better or worse.
Aubrey Ellis didn’t live with that luxury. The fulfillment of her desires was fragile—something I could knock down and attempt to rebuild. Like all of us, her normal life was at risk for an instant reversal of fortune. But with a character like Aubrey, ethereal woes would provide the obstacles, thus creating fresh opportunities. One in particular that would turn into Foretold’s biggest plot twist. Because I know Aubrey’s character so well, flaws were exposed, as were weaknesses I could exploit.
If this sounds harsh, it is. How else do authors intrigue readers? A writer must put their character in harm’s way—emotionally, physically or mentally—if they expect the reader to become invested. So my impetus, exacting as it may be, was to break Aubrey Ellis, then put her back together. Did I succeed? I believe the answer is Foretold.
Winner of yesterday’s FB contest, Belinda Michael! Congrats, Belinda. Pick any Laura Spinella novel of your choice!
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