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!