I just had my brain filled to the brim with instruction on craft and information about publishing at our area Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. The weekend was inspiring, and the presenters were great. What does that have to do with a shaggy dog? Well...
A shaggy dog story is one that lacks certain elements that would make it a truly good story. Imagine a shaggy dog is walking down the sidewalk. He stops to sniff some people, and some puddles. He greets some people and has a stern word for a dog or two. Then he goes home. Maybe that was his day. But there is no story arch, no conflict that will teach him about the world and himself. Kind of like watching the movie Boyhood was for me. I was entertained to watch those people age over the years of filming. I sympathized with the young man who grew up before our eyes. But it was a bit of a shaggy dog story for me.
Together with my daughter Sally, I am working on the sequel to our young adult novel, Raina Rising. We have some fun and interesting plot elements figured out, but I had the niggling feeling that what we had was a bit of a shaggy dog story. I couldn't put my finger on just what needed to change for that to not be the case. Both of us want this book to be better than the last. And the next one better than this one. And...you get the drift.
In one moment of clarity this past weekend, an agent conducting a writing intensive said exactly the right thing in exactly the right words. I started writing as fast as I could because the little light bulb can go dim pretty fast these days. Ah-ha! Now, what was that again? Anyway, from that point on, I could hardly wait to get home and get to work on the book.
We all experience turning points. In the midst of them, we may not see them for what they are, but they are pivotal, defining moments when we will decide who we are. Yesterday I understood that Raina's biggest challenge in this book comes from within. And that seems to be the most character-honing opportunity in life. We all have threats and challenges from the outside that cause us to gather up the courage to fight, or the wisdom to run. Our heroes are the ones who conquer the bad guys with muscles,guts, and brains. And then, there are those times when the enemy is indeed our own greed or envy or self centered pettiness. The enemy within is sneakier, quieter, more manipulative than any foe we will face. I don't believe anyone escapes that kind of battle. It leaves scars. What is more powerful than regret?
Here's hoping I can take Raina where she doesn't want to go. She's already dragging her heels. She does that sometimes even when she knows it is the right direction for the story. Sometimes she is perfectly happy being the shaggy dog. Not today, girl. Gather up your courage, Raina. I know how you hate being wrong, but just hang in there. You will prevail. You have to. This is only book two of the trilogy.