For me the easy part is finding my protagonist. He or she seems to surface from some murky swamp of my unconscious, dripping with demands for a story. Like Eddie Stokes, an aging pickpocket who must ply his larcenous trade one last time, working Salem’s Halloween eve crowds.
The hard part is when the character, in this case Eddie, hands me a shovel, sits back, grins, points to a rough patch of earth, and demands that I do my share of the work. So I begin to dig.
So far, in Eddie’s case, I’ve excavated his big problem—he must risk returning to prison if he is to redeem himself for abandoning his daughter. Still the structure of his story eludes me. How does he change over the course of the story? What choices must he make? Who is his opponent? What does he gain or lose?
Past stories have brought similar difficulties. There is Flo Dembrowski, a feisty homeless woman with a missing front tooth. There is Rose Hernandez, a shy homeless creature who carries a beloved carpet bag in her burn-scarred hands.
In both instances, finding stories for these characters involved intense excavation—digging, discarding, and digging some more. It also required periods of resting and forgetting. Until, finally, their stories emerged.
In the case of Rose, her story turned out to be about a woman tortured by the loss of her child in a fire, who is brought a measure of peace when she helps rescue someone else’s child.
In the case of Flo, her story turned out to be about a woman haunted by guilt for not stopping a gunman from murdering her father. She is buoyed when she gets the chance to stop another murder.
At this moment, Flo and Rose sit under a nearby tree, somewhere behind Eddie, smiling, reminding me that finding his story is worth the sweat. What about your writing process? Is it easy or hard? Fast or slow? Do you start with character or plot?