Putting meat on the bones. How to write a novel — part 2

penguinMotive, action, consequence. Is that all there is? Well, actually, no. But it’s a start.

Watch carefully now. And see? There’s nothing up my sleeves….

Okay, let’s say you’ve got a character in mind. Let’s call him Al. Fair ’nuff? This is just for practice, so you can change name, sex, race, religion, hair color, number of teeth–whatever–later.

So, what drives old Al? What’s his passion in life? What is it that keeps him awake nights? Just for the hell of it, let’s say his goal in life is to sleep well at night. Seems reasonable. (Make a note to come back to that at the very end of whatever tale we manage to create.)

Now, what’s standing in the way? A neighbor’s dog? A nearby airport? World hunger? We need to pick something and roll with it. For now, just play along with me, okay? Let’s say it’s the neighbor’s dog, because, well, why not? Besides, I love dogs.

Okay, Al can’t sleep because of the neighbor’s mutt. Not very sexy, is it? Let’s spice it up a tad. We’ll make Al’s real name Algonquin. He hates it, of course, and the only thing keeping him from making a legal name change is a shortage of cash. He’d rather spend what little he earns–from his job as a junk sorter in a recycling plant–on life’s essentials, plus a lottery ticket or two. Nah, make that three. Apparently, Al is also short on self-discipline.

And his neighbor, Zenobia, a part-time lingerie model and occassional car show hostess, mean dogcan’t seem to remember to feed her 105-lb. Rotweiler, “Precious.” Either that, or she’s off working, and there’s no one left at home to take care of it.

Al considers various remedies for getting the dog to shut up. These might include shooting, drugging, kidnapping, or possibly just taping the critter’s jaws together. They do it to alligators on TV all the time, so why not?

Think for a moment, however. Each of those four options provides an opportunity for action–Al can try to do something to solve his problem. In a bad story, the first thing he attempts will work. But we don’t want to write a bad story. I don’t, anyway! And, since I’m driving this thing, I’m going to insist on Al attempting, or at least seriously considering, three of these four options.

Wile E Coyote 2Further, for each attempt, good ol’ Al must fall short of his goal. Maybe he can’t find a gun, or if he does, he lives in an area where discharging a firearm without due cause is against the law, and the guy living on the other side of Zenobia’s house is a cop or a district attorney (who must be hard of hearing).

Drugging seems an easy task, but stealing pills from someone who needs them is beneath Al, and he doesn’t have a prescription for anything suitable. He could scrounge around on the seedy side of town, hoping to score something, but he’s clearly not “cool” enough to get away with it. Any self-respecting drug dealer would find him suspicious in the extreme. So, nope, that won’t work either.

Kidnapping? A 105-pound Rotweiler? That barks–a lot? Right. Forget kidnapping dear Precious. And if kidnapping is out of the question, taping the monster’s jaws together isn’t much of an option either, assuming Al would prefer to keep his appendages intact.

Well, just damn! What’ll we do now?

We’ll just make Al walk next door to confront Zenobia. When he does, however, he falls under her spell–those amazingly amber, soul-eating eyes of hers put him completely off his game. man-in-love1He stutters and coughs and dissembles and never quite gets around to asking her to keep her dadgum dog in the house at night. Instead, he falls in love.

Which is when Zenobia’s phone rings. From the half of the conversation he can hear, Al deduces that his heartthrob’s agent is on the line, and he wants her to report for work at an underworld car show, only instead of wearing her usual car show costume–a short skirt and tight top–he wants her in what she wears for her modeling gigs: racy underwear.

embarrassed-womans-legsZenobia says she’s not that kinda gal, and she has no desire to associate with the mob types who will be attending the show. Her agent gives her an ultimatum and hangs up.

And suddenly, we have a story in the making. Will it become a novel? Could be. That all depends on where we decide to take it.

But wait! What if we’ve got this all wrong, not only about the pooch, but about the sweet young thing next door, too?

What if–  Spoing!  [Sound of Josh hitting self-declared word limit.]

More, soon; I promise.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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4 Responses to Putting meat on the bones. How to write a novel — part 2

  1. polinto says:

    Can’t wait to see where you are going with this!

  2. joshlangston says:

    You aren’t the only one. [grin]

  3. Amanda says:

    I sense a new novel in the works! 😉

  4. joshlangston says:

    Two of ’em, actually. But I haven’t started on either one, yet.

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