“Planning your way out of writers block.”
I was sound asleep when the general idea for my paranormal comedy, The Substitute, first invaded my mind. Little did I know that the main character, Miss Havana, would develop into such a complex individual. She is an extreme case of pantser vs. planner, created on the fly within the context of the blossoming story. The original concept was simple enough. I needed someone with such an evil soul that Lucifer himself would be taken by her. She had to be beautiful and smart, too, to pull off her antics on “the surface”, and I needed to present her evil nature in a comical way. I also wanted her to be despicable while she lived, and to die in the most heinous way imaginable.
Miss Havana’s death quickly became a problem for both of us. I tried writing the scene several times, but kept tripping myself up by inconsistent details and lack of imagination. In fact, I spent more time on her death than any other part of the story, and had to overcome writer’s block to get it done. This particular death turned out to be so complex that, out of seven novels and one short story I’ve written, the scene was the only one that required a flow chart. I needed quiet time to plan her death, and found the time thrust upon me in a most unusual way—when I locked myself out of my car during a thunderstorm at the Temple City Dump recycling center. As it turned out, my misfortune was a blessing in disguise.
I pulled up next to the various re-cycling dumpsters at the unattended re-cycling site, opened the driver’s door, noted the rain wouldn’t be too bad if I hurried with my unload, and pressed the button to unlock all the car doors. I then rushed toward the appropriate collection bin with a couple of bags of aluminum cans, and heard the wind slam the car door behind me.
It started to rain harder, a cold rain, and then thunder rolled. My heart sank when I tried to open the back door to retrieve the cardboard sitting next to the newsprint in the back seat. That’s when I realized I had locked all the doors instead of unlocking them. The button is, after all, a rocker switch. Even worse, when I looked through the front window, I saw my cell phone sitting on the console between the bucket seats…next to my keys.
The storm seemed to settle overhead with more lightning, thunder and pelting rain. Texan’s rarely take coats to anything; this was no exception. The only thing I could do was offer a few choice words to the Universe, and hoof it to the nearest occupied building about a block away, a small city office responsible for managing the dump site. Dripping wet, I implored the lady in charge to let me use the phone. Fortunately for me, she was in a good mood.
My wife was at the beauty shop where I had dropped her off, and probably couldn’t hear her cell phone ring above the collective whine of hair dryers. Worse, what husband pays attention to the name of such places? Certainly not me. The lady servicing the counter offered a blank look, a shake of her head and her phone book. I eventually found an establishment with an address that seemed to exist about where I left my wife. The hairdresser who answered the phone was nice enough as I explained my situation, but I swear I heard her snicker and make a comment about calling a cab instead of calling my wife before she transferred the call to my wife’s beautician.
My wife’s beautician immediately offered her car to my wife—a great way to get a really good tip—but I would be trapped at the dump for about an hour until the haircut was finished. I sheepishly grinned at the lady in charge, shrugged, asked if I could have a couple of pieces of paper, and then borrowed a pen. And that’s where Miss Havana’s death scene came together. I just needed the proper motivation. The rolling thunder. The pouring rain. The frustration. The occasional whiffs of rotting garbage. The uncomfortable wet clothes. The special feeling of being dumber than dirt. Whatever the motivation, it worked. I felt inspired.
In the next hour, I charted out a timeline of events for a triple homicide with a single victim, a way to kill Miss Havana three times in a row by many different people. None of the perpetrators would know the real cause of her death, all would perish violently, and each soul would pay the ultimate price as if it was the actual murderer. And here’s the excerpt where the chaos begins, when all involved with Miss Havana’s death arrive in hell in a gaggle, as told from Lucifer’s POV:
Now, I am not one to be easily impressed by anyone or anything. In fact, in the eternity we have just completed, I cannot recall a single time or event where I have been persuaded that anything from above had any value at all, regardless of how it seemed on the surface, if you get my pun. Therefore, when Miss Havana’s soul came before me I practically swooned, if indeed that term can be used here, and gasped in delight to observe a soul so dark and riddled with such a rich texture of evil.
Yes, her soul contained the mother lode of evil, something so repugnant others avoided it more than the plague of souls, or fled from entirely. Its darkness could literally absorb any vestige of lightness or humanity from the others around it. Like a black hole of souls, it could suck all hope from the dead. Even I could feel the refreshing presence of Miss Havana calling to me from a pit the existence of which I had forgotten entirely—as if she were the soul mate I’ve never known, and certainly never expected to appear before me.
Of course, I can never really be lonely. How would that be possible since I’m far too busy with my day-to-day scheming and excruciation to be bothered with anything so fanciful as lust? Ironic, isn’t it, that those on the surface consider lust of such importance relative to their arrival here, being one of the big seven so to speak, yet it doesn’t play a role here at all. After all, of what value is lust when, if you want something, you just take it. Ditto coveting. For that matter, what good is a partner when anyone is free to simply take what is wanted—if, that is, he is strong enough, conniving enough, and evil enough to do so, as I certainly am.
Ah, but back to Miss Havana, lest I digress too deeply. There she stood at the front of that group before me, the darkest of souls I’d seen in an eternity, forever for that matter. Yes, all other souls associated with her demise kept their distance in fear of their natural leader. Even more intriguing, she abruptly approached me—fearlessly to boot—something simply not done here, at least not in my memory. My personal demons fell back, not in fear but in awe. To my surprise, she looked directly into my eyes as if I had intruded on her space, not the other way around, and uttered words that deeply touched the darkness in my heart. “Are you the fucking devil?”
Lucifer is smitten, allows Miss Havana to judge those who contributed to her multiple murder, and falls in lust because of her rapid grasp of the situation and the ironic pits of despair she individually creates for her killers. He takes her as his mate, and the eternal battle of the sexes plays out until they have a child, who, it turns out, is more evil that the two of them combined. I stalled on the death scene, but flew through the rest of the novel, laughing to myself all the way.
My point in telling this story is twofold. First, there are times when planning is necessary, even if you write by the seat of your pants. In fact, for very complex plots, I suspect a flow chart of all the events leading to a conclusion is necessary. Second, if you have writer’s block, a little planning might get you through it. Sketch out a timeline of events that must come together at a specific point in time. Such a timeline can codify what you want from your scene/story, and prevent fatal inconsistencies in the plot.
The Substitute is available in .pdf format from http://www.solsticepublishing.com/ and in Kindle format from amazon.com. The follow-on novel, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! should be released near the end of July, 2011. Both novels have received five-star reviews, and both will keep the reader laughing from beginning to end.
Thank you for reading,
James L. Hatch