Hello, writers. So I've mentioned the concept of “earning” something in our writing before. Any revelation has to be earned. If the character experiences a moment of growth, we have to earn it by showing, before that, that
1. s/he needed to grow and
2. s/he was capable of growing
If the answer to a mystery is revealed, we have to make sure that the reader knew the mystery existed (and had been reminded of it at some point in the last 20 pages or so).
If two characters suddenly look at each other and realize that each other are the love of their life, there has to have been a hint or three along the way that things were tending in that direction.
When an event or a change or a solution just plops into a story out of the blue, an editor will say, “This doesn't feel earned.”
Then you have to go back and earn it.
So this week I hit 42k words in my work-in-progress, which is another middle grade fantasy. I was all ready to write the 3rd movement: the crashing conclusion. I had this ending planned before I even started writing.
But it doesn't feel right. It feels like this ending is going to be dropped from sky. It's going to come bursting out of nowhere. I haven't earned it.
So rather than go on, I'm going back to rewrite those 42k words, to make sure that I'm building everything I need to in all the places where building should occur, so that the ending can be, as teh Guru says, surprising and yet inevitable.
I'll check that every aspect of the ending is being earned from the very beginning. And I'll check that every aspect of the middle is earned. And even every aspect of the beginning.
(Editors are great teachers, and once they've said “this doesn't feel earned” enough, you start saying it to yourself.)
So what does all this have to do with the Forgotten Smallpox Vials?
Well, it's like this. Say you wanted to write a thriller about, let's say, bioterrorism. And let's say you had hit on smallpox as your virus-of-choice. It's deadly, most people under 50 haven't been immunized against it, and there hasn't been a case of smallpox worldwide since 1978. The only surviving smallpox virus is held in very secure conditions in the US and Russia, and from time to time there is some discussion of whether to destroy the remaining virus.
So in your thriller, maybe you'd have some terrorists break into either the Russian or the US lab and steal it. Or maybe they'd infiltrate; one of the actual virologists would do the stealing. Anyway, major scene, great opening, hit the ground running, in media res, etc.
(Hi, NSA! We're just a friendly little online writing group here.)
Anyway, one way or another, you'll make the virus-theft believable. You'll earn it.
Then along comes a headline like this:
Whoa. There goes the need to build your dramatic bio-terrorists-attack scene. They can just find some smallpox virus in a cardboard box, like their ancestors did before them.
Ripped-from-the-headlines stories can work. To a point. You've probably spotted the problem with this one, though.
It's not believable.
Not remotely. The fact that it actually happened is no defense. As we've mentioned on here two or three times in the past: Fiction has to be believable. Reality doesn't.
However, you can solve this problem, and I hope you will for tonight's challenge.
Tonight's challenge is to earn the discovery-of-forgotten-smallpox-virus.
Write a scene showing how the smallpox virus came to be left a cardboard box at the NIH and forgotten (or, if your story requires it, “forgotten”).
We don't need all the events building up to the eventual acquisition of the virus by the bio-terrorists. Just the forgetting (or "forgetting").
Try to limit yourself to 150 words.
Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
Before signing a contract with any agent or publisher, please be sure to check them out on Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write and/or Writer Beware.