Thursday, July 16, 2009

What could happen?

The Library Corner of The Daily Star in Oneonta, NY, raised an interesting question about Maggie's Monkeys in its list of summer reading possibilities today.
Do you have monkeys in your refrigerator? Probably not, but Maggie says their house has a family of monkeys living in their refrigerator. Trouble is, she is the only one who can see them. The rest of the family decide to play along in "Maggie's Monkeys" by Linda Sanders-Wells. What could happen if they agree to something they know isn't true?
Put that way it sounds as if Maggie's family is going along with something dangerous. Maybe even nefarious. I'm sure Ms. Bruni only meant to encourage kids to imagine various scenarios, but I had this reaction: Oh no, could something bad happen?

Once I got past feeling protective of my characters, I realized the power of that question. It's the mystery that propels all good stories. If you put these people in this circumstance, what could happen?

It's how I write longer fiction, actually. I'm not one of those people who plots the novel before writing a word. I tend to start a work with the characters and some general ideas about what the central issue is, then figure it out as I go along. It doesn't always work perfectly (one recent rejection suggested that I try to find a class in plotting) but it makes writing fun. If I've gotten to know my characters fully and have written honestly, it's usually a matter of figuring out what has to happen. There's a decision in front of the character and only one thing that he or she would really do.

There's nothing like the moment when it comes clear for me. Of course. This is what has to happen. How could I have not seen it?

What could happen? It's a perfect question for a librarian to ask.