In my last blog I mentioned the three things I wanted to preserve in Spence and Sadie's story -- the things that, in my opinion, were the basis for the whole effort.
The first, the premise, is the hook which I used to start the story. It's the sudden change in circumstances that makes it necessary for Sadie and Spence to begin this adventure together. Without that particular premise, it would be a very different book.
The second, the characters' back stories and identities, is pretty self-explanatory. Who Spence is is a result of his family background, his personality, the things that have happened to him, the decisions he's made. The same is true of Sadie.
And these are people I've grown to know and love over the course of the past few months. So when I was considering revisions, I knew I couldn't play fast and loose with who they were when the book began and still find the same emotional arc of growth in the book.
Different characters have different issues. They bring those issues to the story. How they grow and reach a strong, healthy and fulfilling relationship within the confines of the book is a result of how how they feel about those issues and the decisions they make regarding them -- and each other -- scene by scene in the course of the book.
And that is the emotional throughline. Michelle Styles asked me about this, so let me explain.
I borrowed the term from my son who spent his teens and twenties doing a lot of extreme skiing around the A
merican west. He climbed up and skied down mountains that made my heart leap up and lodge in my throat -- and, of course, while he was doing it, he took plenty of pictures.*
Often these pictures would be shot from the bottom of the mountain where he would be, having already made the run. And the photos he showed inevitably had a single tiny speck on an almost vertical mountainside threading its way through massive jagged rocks and past overhangs and down into the moguls and so on.
And he would point at the speck and say, "That's Brian." (Brian is still alive, too, in case anyone is wondering. But for Brian's mother and me, it was often an eyes averted experience, looking at these slides they showed. Only knowing they were here to show the photos allowed us to breathe easier.)
How, we asked, did they get down the mountainside without killing or maiming themselves? How did they know where to go?
They studied the terrain, my son said. They looked for the throughline -- the single path that, if followed, would bring them not over cliffs and or impaled on jagged rocks, but safely down the mountain.
They had to study every inch, learn all the dead ends and disasters, and finally find the one that would take them all the way down. Then they had to visualize it so completely that they could see it in their minds clearly before they started out. They had to commit it to memory and ski it mentally over and over, imprinting the path on their brains before they ever set out. It was the only way to get down the mountain (except, of course, in a helicopter being medevac-ed out).
It made sense to me. In fact it makes much more sense in writing than in skiing. Lots
safer. But then, that's me. I'm not a skier. I'm a writer.
But I like the term because it describes so well what I do when I'm looking at a story, making sure it works, trying to understand how each character gets from beginning to end in a coherent believable way.
So when I began Spence and Sadie's story, I had to know where they were emotionally in the beginning of the book. I needed to know this in order to understand -- and write -- their responses to the premise. And then, at each succeeding turning point -- basically in each succeeding scene -- I have to understand how they feel about things now. How they feel dictates what they do next.
Every emotional twist and turn the plot takes has to make sense, it has to bring them closer to the end without them taking a wrong turn -- and going off an emotional cliff.
Thus, changing that emotional throughline would have taken me right off that story's mountain and put me on another one. Nothing wrong with another mountain, but it wouldn't have been the same mountain with the same throughline, the same story. On a different mountain, the journey would have been very different.
So that's why I was guarding those things very carefully. And all of those things are preserved. What has changed is the trigger. But it creates the same premise (yay!) and works perfectly for the people that Spence and Sadie already are (yay again!) and, most important of all, it allows them to follow the same emotional throughline from beginning to end (whew!). So I'm happy. Now all I have to do is write it!
*The photo above is by Colin Meadows (who is not my son, but who seems to hang out in many of the same places) You can see more of his spectacular shots on his website
. My son's are in a portable ice chest a thousand miles away, not on the web where I could nab one to show you.