A-Harrowing We Go

‘Why, after all, should readers never be harrowed? Surely there is enough happiness in life without having to go to books for it.’

Dorothy Parker

pearl1Woe is me. Or rather my characters. Or it should be. I have a hard time sending the Four Horsemen after my fictional darlings. But how can you have a story if nothing out of the ordinary ever happens? Life for most people is pretty routine: Work, sleep, eat, shop, chop wood, carry water sort of thing. There has to be more to them, something that makes them extraordinary, to make it worth the telling and the reading.

Ok, so maybe it doesn’t have to be the Apocalypse, but there needs to be more going on than a nice tidy existence. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, the characters have to want something even if it’s just a glass of water. Maybe it’s time for the [insert ominous organ music] File of Doom. I’ve set them off on a bit of a journey, but I think it’s time for some metaphorical rain to come into their lives.

I’d like them to end up in a particular locale, but it’s an area that I’ve never visited and I’m not sure I can get enough information off the net and out of books to compensate for my lack of first-hand knowledge. Taking a trip there right now is out of the question. But maybe it won’t matter, I’m not sure how much time they need to spend there or how much interaction with the local populace will take place. Is it necessary to have visited Dracula’s castle to create a creepy setting? Maybe I should rein it in, and keep them in areas I know better.

17 thoughts on “A-Harrowing We Go

  1. Read up a little on that destination, and make up the rest. There is a reason why you’re intrigued w/this locale: think about why that is, and incorporate it into your story. Down the road, if you have time for more research or even a visit in person, you can always do that and then go back and edit/embellish/revise. The worst that could happen is you’ll create a different location that’s great, in and of itself.

    Do you have time for a crime novel or two? I recommend the late Donald E. Westlake – they are all wonderful, but “The Hot Rock,” “Drowned Hopes,” and “Good Behavior” come to mind. The reason I recommend them is because they are all about this thief, a very intelligent, methodical, resourceful guy, who best-laid plans are constantly going awry. Westlake said he invented the character, John Dortmunder, (who turned into a series – there are at least a dozen Dormtmunder books, and in the movies he’s been played by Robert Redford, Christopehr Lambert, George C. Scott, and Martin Lawrence, to name a few) because he was thinking about a person who doesn’t deal well with frustration. Poor Dortmunder anticipates every possible angle, and the stuff that goes wrong (constantly) is never his fault, always hilarious, yet weirdly believable. He and his crew never break character; they never give up; they just keep on keeping on. Besides that they are great fun, I think they’d be useful in getting you to think about ways in which the great ones throw up road blocks for their characters. Note that the roadblocks which Dortmunder encounters are never tragic or fatal, just funny – if you’re interested in something more dark & hardboiled, look into Richard Stark’s “Parker” novels, (Stark was Westlake’s noir alter ego.)


  2. Thanks for the recommendations. I remember you mentioned Westlake to me before on something else, I’ll definitely have to check him out now. The Parker novels sound good, too. I’ll have to check my books, I may already have some of his stuff from when I was a “Mystery Guild” member years ago (are those book clubs even still around? I never hear anything about them anymore). Those may be just what I need.


  3. I like the idea of sending the Four Horsemen, or something along that line, after characters. They say that more trouble a writer’s characters are in the more excitement for the reader. I agree. I certainly want my life to be as trouble-free as possible, but the more trouble the characters I read about get in the harder it is for me to put the book down.


  4. A writing teacher once told me that the best stories happen when writers put characters in situations that they themselves have trouble finding ways out of.

    As far as locale, you don’t have to visit. If you’re worried about accuracy, call their chamber of commerce or some other visitor’s bureau to ask questions. They’ll be glad to help. Good luck! 🙂


  5. Well here’s a little twist I wasn’t expecting. I did a little research on said unknown locale last night on the net, and based even on that little bit of information I now really would like to visit the area! 🙂

    Jenna, this is what I was talking about on your blog a couple days ago about how easy it is for me to get bogged down in the research. Now I’m going to become obsessed with getting to know the area! I’m going to try to stick to the writing and maybe plan a trip to this place down the road a bit.

    Sam, visitors bureau is a great resource. Maybe I’ll get one of their vacation planning packages they send out to lure tourists.


  6. Hey DD,

    I prefer making up locations for that very reason. I’m always nervous about getting some detail wrong. On a rare time that I actually used a real location (Berlin) I had to think up a street name. (I didn’t want to be *that* specific so a fake street seemed the best thing to do) So, I thought, “Okay. Think of a famous German….ah…Dietrich!” My character thus walked up Dietrich Street where she offed the target in his apartment. Of course, later, I saw that there really is a Dietrich Street. (which I should have gathered). Naturally, it was in a totally different district of Berlin than where I’d placed it.

    Ah well.

    Anyhow, have fun with your resarch!


  7. Hey Astro Sis,

    Ok, now I’m seeing Myrna on this page, but not next to your comment when I look at the dashboard comment summary… curiouser and curiouser. It also added your comment in the middle instead of in the order received.


    Well, maybe I should just quit worrying so much about it. Unless I set it on the street where I live, it can’t possibly be completely accurate.


  8. DD,

    I know! I also was wondering how/why my comment appeared before others who’d already posted. Plus, the whole split identity- avatar thingie. Yeah. Curiouser and Curiouser.

    I am also wondering about this mysterious locale in your novel. 🙂


  9. This just keeps getting weirder. Gotta be some kind of WP glitch. Just for fun I tried uploading a new avatar myself, but it doesn’t seem to be showing up yet.

    Nothing so mysterious about the locale really, I just didn’t think it would be all that interesting to anyone else. 🙂 Pretty mundane actually, just what is apparently called “Greater Minnesota” or “Outstate Minnesota”, which seems to be pretty much anything outside the Twin Cities area. There seems to be a lot of wilderness still, and all the lakes, seems like a good setting to send my characters to for awhile.


  10. Maybe it’s a sign that I need more mystery in my life 😉

    So strange, when I check my other dashboard for The Wandering Mind blog I still see the full moon pic I’ve always had. When I popped over to this dashboard, I see the blank. Hopefully the new avatar will be on duty soon!


  11. Astro Sis,

    I love your new Raven avatar!

    Now, why is my new Myrna Loy avatar still working on your site and not on mine and some others? Mysteries, mysteries….


  12. Thanks! I love ravens. I got that huge fake one at Halloween last year, which I had wired to my computer monitor at work and freaked everyone out with 😉

    It’s all so strange. Some pages I see Myrna (like this one) and some pages (my dashboard) I see Mrs. Lovett still. Have you cleared your cache on your computer? I also adjusted the rating on mine from PG to G, and I think selected different gravatars to show up for people who haven’t uploaded personal ones. After I did all I started seeing the raven finally! I can e-mail you some screen shots of what I’m talking about if you need.


  13. Thanks Astro Sis!

    It worked as soon as I cleared my cache.

    Oh, that’s awesome about the Raven and your computer.

    I love bird watching in general. Hope to get some bincoculars soon.


  14. DD, have you gotten your characters to the location yet, or are you still researching? I’d say go for it — get them there and start building that part of the story, and when you finish your research, go back and flesh those parts out. If I had to be thoroughly familiar with every location in my story, I’d be in trouble. So far, the internet, travel guides, tourism materials have been helpful. If I need visual help on what an area looks like, I’ll search photos at pbase.com.

    I’ve read a couple of the Dortmunder books. They are funny! I also like Eric Ambler, who does such a great job of writing about very ordinary people who unexpectedly end up in extraordinary circumstances.


  15. Hi JG,

    I am pushing ahead with the story for now, and will fill in the scenery as needed later. Thanks for the tip on pbase.com, I’d never heard of that. I poked around a bit just now and found same incredible photographs.

    I decided to quit obsessing about locale after reading back over some of the rest of it and seeing how rough it ALL is right now, so I realized there’s point in getting hung up on one section at the moment. 😉


Comments are closed.