Crossroads

On August 14, 2021, Christie V Powell wrote, How do you decide when you’ve got two different routes that your story can take? Maybe you’ve written your list and you’ve got a couple of brilliant ideas, but they don’t work well together. Or maybe it’s an either-or question: should I kill this character or not? Should I combine these characters or not? Like, both options are valid and would make a decent story.

If it makes a difference, right now I’m trying to decide whether to add (gender swapped) Beauty’s father into the plot in the beginning or combine him with “Beauty”‘s army commander. The Beast part is pretty clear in my rough draft, but the father part needs work.

A back-and-forth ensued.

Melissa Mead: What would the father contribute to the story that no one else can?

Christie V Powell: Mainly it’s the connection to the fairy tale. Right now, I’m trying out combining him with the commander, who has a more important role. It changes “Beauty”s motivation a bit, but it also raises the stakes, so I’m hoping it will work.

Melissa Mead: Well, if the Disney version could leave out Belle’s sisters, I’d say you can be flexible.

I chimed in.  

Gail Carson Levine: Do you know the ending? Are you in the outlining stage?

Christie V Powell: I have a loose outline and a really messy rough draft, and now I’m trying to make it more presentable. So I know the basic building blocks, including the ending, but there are still details I haven’t figured out yet.

Gail Carson Levine: I’ve added your question to my list. Your approach is so much more logical than mine, I don’t know how much help I’ll be, but I’ll take a stab. By the time the question comes up, you can tell us what you wound up doing and how you approached it!

Since Christie V Powell asked the question eleven months ago, I looked on her Amazon page to see if I could see if a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling was there, but I couldn’t find it. What I did find, among many titles, was The Great Pasta Rhyme-Off by James G. Powell written either by her son or a very accomplished professor of limerickology, judging by the sample Amazon provides.

Seriously, Christie V Powell, I was charmed—and mighty pleased to see a photo of you doling out said pasta!

Anyway, please let us know if you finished the book and what you wound up doing.

When the question is simply whether to have two characters or one—a father and a commander, or the father is also the commander—I would go with option two.  Generally, I believe in character consolidation; one character is better than two. The reader doesn’t have to take another one on board when there may already be many.

But there are exceptions, like if the single character has to be in two places at once. Or we may want two to bring out different aspects of character. I’m not a fan of the father in the original fairy tale because he dumps the choice of which of them—he or Beauty—should be sacrificed to the Beast. The Beast hasn’t said he’d eat her, but her longevity doesn’t look good if she’s his captive. I don’t know what Christie V Powell has in mind, but indecisiveness doesn’t seem a likely personality trait for a commander.

When my story reaches a crossroad—or whenever I have to make almost any story decision—I write notes, which is one reason I’m such a slow writer. I ask, What if it goes this way? I write possibilities, lots of them if the idea is promising. That way? Different possibilities. Sometimes I reach a dead end quickly, which tells me to go another way.

What I’m looking for are surprises and enthusiasm (my own). It’s a good sign if a follow-on idea is unexpected. I’m convinced, and I set off—

Which doesn’t mean I won’t run into trouble later on. Since I’m mostly a pantser, I don’t anticipate trouble very well. Trouble occasions more notes, but I rarely reverse my earlier choice.

Let’s take a stab at our own gender-reversed B&B, in which we’ll give our MC the boy’s name Beau. He’s bookish and loves novels of manners and poets who write in rhymed couplets. If one of his books weighs more than five pounds, he staggers carrying it to his favorite chair by the fireplace. When his father comes home with his terrible news, Beau rises to the occasion, though he almost drops his mug of hot chocolate in the effort of standing up. Huzzah! Maybe an adventure will lead him to a new interest in swashbuckling stories! “I’ll go, Father.” He smiles bravely and gulps.

Say we go with one character for Beau’s father and the commander, who is in charge of the defense of the kingdom’s capital. When the Beast, an enormous lioness, offers him the choice of his own death or sacrificing his son, he thinks he could bump off the creature himself just by pulling the chandelier down on her, but he wants Beau to toughen up, and here’s the chance he’s been waiting for. This father isn’t indecisive at all! “Take my son,” he says. “You’ll love him.” Heh heh heh.

Now, say the father is just the father. By trade, he’s a merchant. The cargo he traded in before he became impoverished was rare books about botany. He and Beau are twigs on the same delicate tree. When the Beast offers him a chance to live, he grabs it instantly, in a grip that’s barely strong enough to squeeze a kitchen sponge.

But he loves his son. When a month passes and Beau doesn’t return or send word, he visits the commander, who is happy to take on the rescue.

At this point in my thinking, the father seems like dead (but light) weight. If the commander takes over we don’t need the father in the first place unless he has something to do later in our plot.

At this point I’d wonder what that might be. I’d think about how my story is going so far. What’s happening with Beau and the Beast? Is Beau accruing any swashbuckling skills? Probably not. Is he finding ways to sabotage the Beast or to make his captivity bearable? Is the Beast in love with him? Or is she disappointed and getting hungry?

How can the father worsen Beau’s situation or improve it? As usual, I’d make a list.

I don’t know how it would come out, but that would be my approach.

Here are three prompts:

  • Write the list to determine Beau’s father’s story fate. Depending on what you decide, write the story.
  • Write your own gender-switched fairy tale.
  • Write “Beauty and the Beast” from the father’s POV.

Have fun and save what you write!

  1. Yep, the Beauty and the Beast one is The Seventh Clan. It’s pretty loosely based on the fairy tale. I did end up combining the father and commander into one character. He sends his son out to sea to seek help that would save both the father and the men with him, and the son meets the Beast character while seeking help.

    James G Powell is my husband. He’s an elementary school teacher, and knows a lot about all kinds of things. He wrote the limericks and I put the book together.

    • I’ve thought about trying to do something like that with a friend I have [not going to say her name here] that likes to draw. I was going to write the story, and she said she would illustrate it.
      Also, The Seventh Clan is going to be the next book I read after I finish The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty, and Willa of Dark Hollow by Robert Beatty. Has anyone else read any of his books? They’re really creepy, and I love them sooo much! 😍

  2. Miss Maddox says:

    Does anybody have any suggestions for books about writing? I recently finished Spilling Ink and loved it, and I also loved Writing Magic (of course!), so now I’m looking for more.

  3. I got this one book for Easter called Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer & Ellen Potter, and I absolutely loved it! They both had some really good advice that actually used. I’m one of those people that has trouble using the advice I’m given.

    I was wondering who I should ask to be my beta readers. i.e., should I ask family members, friends, etc. etc.

  4. Has anyone here read any of the popular booktok books? And if so, which ones are your favorites or, in your opinion, worth reading?

  5. I just tried to get into my nanowrimo account, and it wouldn”t load, but when it did, the screen said the website was unsafe and if I went ahead, an attacker coulld steal my information.
    Is this happening to anyone else?

    • Not with NaNoWriMo (I don’t have an account), but something similar has been going on for almost a month with a Wordle variant my family plays called Redactle. (It’s a Wikipedia article that’s had everything but articles, is, were, and prepositions blocked out, and you have to figure out the title.) There, the issue is that the safety certification (the https) expired at the end of June, so Google can’t make sure the connection is private. Not entirely sure why they haven’t fixed it yet, though.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I suggest you google: Has NaNoWriMo been hacked? And see what people say. I’d also recommend being careful.

  6. I asked my mom, and she looked up if Nano’s been hacked and we couldn’t find anything, so we tried to sign into my account on her phone, and it work just fine. At first, we thought it was our computer, because we have it in ‘S mode’ which all Microsoft computers come with now, and it is supposed to be super safe.
    We brought it to my grandparents’ house to see if my grandma could look at it. [She used to work for the county, setting up schedules so she knows more about computer problems than anyone in my family.] I pulled it up to show her, and it went to the home screen just like normal.
    I wrote for a little bit, and then we went home, and it had the same problem.
    We ended up unplugging the Wi-Fi rounder and plugging it back in. After that, it worked just fine!
    Just a false alarm or glitch in our Wi-Fi, I guess. 🤷It’s been working ever since!

  7. Oh, yeah, I was wondering if anyone had any ideas on showing someone become a villain.
    In WIP, one of the antagonists starts out as a sweet ten-year-old boy, but by the third book, he murders the main character’s love interest.
    I don’t know how to show his transformation in a way that would fit the fantasy genre.

  8. I think his motivation is that he wants to marry the main character who also becomes the heir to the throne after the prince is killed in battle. She doesn’t want to be queen or ever marry him.
    Eli – the villain – ends up hating Cassius – the love interest.
    His fear is that he will never be loved by anyone because his dad hates him, and he never had any friends, save Quinn – the main character. Shortly after Eli met Quinn, his mom dies from an illness. I didn’t specify what illness.
    So, I think that his fatal flaw, or misbelief, is that in order to be loved by everyone, he must eliminate the one he doesn’t like.
    Does that make any sense?

    • I think so…. Hmmmm. Maybe make him and Cassius an oil and water kind of relationship, so whenever they meet, they rub each other the wrong way, so it’s personal for Eli? And then when Quinn loves Cassius, he’s jealous, but he’s also afraid that Cassius will cut him out of the picture entirely, and he’s desperate not to lose his one friend. And then maybe on top of that, he and Quinn fight over this, making him still more desperate. If you keep adding onto the pile slowly, it’ll all build up. If Cassius has lots of friends already, Eli may have a ‘why does he need Quinn too’ mindset. If Quinn starts growing more distant because Eli has changed, Eli can pin it on Cassius and decide he needs to speed things up. Maybe at the start, he tries to break up the relationship in more non-violent ways, fails each time, and grows steadily more bitter with each add-on to the pile.

      Hope some of this helps you!

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