Sunday, May 27, 2007

Limits -- finding the right box

I've been thinking about my empty box (well, empty besides Hugh-in-a-towel) -- and what will go in it and how I can work with it.

Besides thinking about what's going in it, though, I'm thinking about what sort of box it should be -- big or small, plain or fancy. I'm thinking about the sides of the box, the top and bottom of the box, too. Everything about the box is significant because it creates the limits of my story -- it provides the boundaries of the book's fictional world.

Without a box, things get lost. Without limits stories don't grow. They are a product of action and reaction. And a lot of times, the reaction is a result of some part of the story hitting the side or the top or the bottom of the box. They get a reaction. They test the limits. The characters grow based on what they encounter and how they deal with it. Without limits, it's hard to get that to happen.

I found that out again when I thought I had the right box for Flynn and Sara.

I certainly had part of the box because I had a backstory for them that was given -- I had story elements against which they had to act and react because those were part of their past. It was given to them because they'd met in The Great Montana Cowboy Auction and their paths were set there.

But I put them in the wrong box. I started that book in New York City to begin with -- and that didn't work at all. There was nothing in New York for them to react to. It was the wrong box. It had no top, no bottom, no sides as far as they were concerned. It wasn't significant to them. It didn't matter to them. They weren't confined by circumstances in New York. Neither of them had a significant life in New York. Anything that happened there was somehow artificial.

It made logical sense for Sara to be in New York. But at the same time it was, frankly, out of character. And if I'd insisted on leaving it there, they would still be making that interminable walk between Sara's brownstone flat and the coffee shop where she and Flynn were going to talk because there was nothing to stop them -- there were no limits.

In fact, I am so sure now that it was the wrong place (after four months of trying to get them to go down that street) that I get a sick feeling every time I think about it. I just envision them walking and walking and walking. No limits. No story.

Fortunately for them -- and for me -- I finally found the right box.

I'm trying to do the same with this new book. I'm trying to find not just the stuff that goes in it, but the box that will limit the story. Then, if my characters decide to press the limits -- push the edges, as it were -- that will be fine. I'll like that -- because it will be energetic. Something will be happening. They can test the limits because they will exisit.

But first, as Twyla Tharp said, I have to find the box.


Anonymous anne frasier said...

wow. another great post. you could charge by the semester here.

28 May, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Anne! I think Twyla Tharp is the one who should be getting paid for all this expertise. And I guess she is -- from royalties.

28 May, 2007  

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