My journey with Peri and her friends

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Intuitive structure (slapping my own forehead)

Posted by Gayle on September 29, 2008

I just returned from a weekend at the Southern California Writer’s Conference, a group I highly recommend if you are a serious writer (www.writersconference.com). One of my favorite workshop leaders this year was Trai Cartwright, whose energy made her classes absolutely joyful.

When I first walked into “Intuitive Structure:Exploiting What You Know” I had absolutely no clue what I was going to learn about. I went because it was an intriguing title. What I got was a lesson on how important it is to have underpinnings to your tale that go beyond the basic plot outline. A good story must obey the rules of its genre, a world that provides conflict for the main character, and a main character with a fatal flaw. And, perhaps most of all, a story needs a theme. It can’t just be a “dime store western” – it has to be a classic struggle between good and evil, set in the western genre.

I confess, at the end of the workshop, I wanted to call Karen Syed and yell, “Wait! My novel’s not ready yet! I don’t have a theme! What’s my character’s fatal flaw? How is she in conflict with her world? It’s Placentia, for Pete’s sake!”

Fortunately, I’m no dummy. After I thought about it, I had the answers all the time, I just didn’t know it. It was intuitive.

Peri’s fatal flaw is that she is both nosy and impatient. She should wait for Skip to come and help her. She should call someone instead of walking through Benny’s dark yard alone. She should stay in the background, under the radar, instead of poking around, asking questions. These traits will always get her into hot water.

The world of Placentia, California, doesn’t seem like much of a conflict in Peri’s life. But if I open that world up beyond the physical and look at Peri’s life, I see, in the story, where everyone’s fine with her being a private eye until she is endangered. And being endangered is the catalyst for Peri to decide that she really wants to be a private eye. There’s my conflict.

But what’s the theme? I thought I had written a breezy little murder mystery, kind of a ‘cozy’ in terms of the level of violence and gore. But when I looked at how I told it, Peri’s unrelenting curiousity transcends her desire for justice, for fairness, for truth. The thing that makes her tick follows my own heart: life is a riddle to be solved.

I am reminded of something I heard Willard Scott say one morning, “When you’re green, you’re growing, and when you think you’re ripe, you’re rotten.”

This is why Peri will continue to solve cases and I will continue to write stories about her – because we both want to keep growing. Even when we’re both brittle and old.

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