Note: The purpose of the craft notes is to pull back the curtain and show what I am trying to accomplish as an author, and why I make the choices I do. There are spoilers here, so you probably want to read the chapter before reading the craft notes.
The term “sequel” is sometimes used to describe a scene that slows down the pace so that the characters (and the reader) can reflect on what has happened up to this point and figure out what to do next. The first chapter of The Eye of Crasis was fast-paced and action-packed. The second chapter is its sequel; Jerrod (and the reader) needs time to reflect on what has happened and decide what he’s going to do.
There are several things I want to accomplish in the sequel scene:
- I want to give Jerrod a place to stop and think.
- I want to show Jerrod’s motivation for running instead of turning himself and the black box in to the authorities.
- I want to show Jerrod working on the problem of finding out what’s in the black box, which will reveal some things about him and about the black box.
- I want to show more about Jerrod, including his personal history, and especially his struggle with PTSD.
- I want to ratchet up the stakes a little more.
- I want to put him in flight again.
How do I accomplish these things?
The first order of business is to get Jerrod someplace relatively safe, so that he (and the reader) can take a breather and reflect on what has happened. This is not uncommon for a sequel; it needs a quiet space. How do I accomplish this?
I decided to put him in a rarely used cabin in the Gallatin mountains south of Bozeman. It’s out of the way, and is already known to Jerrod. I provide more description of the setting than I did in Chapter 1. There are two reasons for this. First, this setting is not something the reader can easily picture without some help from me. Second, I want to create an atmosphere of aloneness and isolation, which functions as a symbol of the situation Jerrod finds himself in.
Here are the main setting descriptors I use to do this:
- “a cloud of dust followed Jerrod’s truck up the forest service road”
- “six hour trip into the Gallatin Mountains south of Bozeman”
- “an A-frame cabin”
- “the switch box”
- “a couch that had seen better days”
- “a kitchen drawer”
- “sun was low in the horizon, casting an orange light across the ceiling”
- “he sank deeply into it, and it blew dust into the air; the couch was well past its expiration date”
- “harsh light from a bare bulb”
- “stark shadows jumped out from the furniture, giving the room a black-and-white look”
- “the lodgepole pines that populated this part of Wyoming”
- “the two ton television set”
- “through darkening woods … bushes … face-slapping tree branches … foot-grabbing underbrush”
- “an ugly manmade gash cutting through forty miles of forested mountains”
- “rugged, snow-covered mountains”
Notice that I have scattered them throughout the chapter so that they sneak in almost unnoticed as the chapter’s three scenes unfold.
As an aside, I have been playing around in my mind with the idea of making Neil Anderson the friend of Jerrod’s dad and owner of the cabin. That would explain what he was doing on the road just outside Bozeman. I am also playing with the idea of adding Anderson’s daughter, who is about Jerrod’s age and who used to play in the woods with Jerrod. She would re-appear later in the story as an adult in possible competition with Trish for Jerrod’s heart. I don’t know if I will put these things in, but it’s an example of the kind of ideas that pop up when you’re writing. I actually wrote a paragraph for chapter 2 that introduces the girl, but pulled it out and put it in an ideas folder. I try not to throw anything away. You never know when it will suddenly seem just right for a scene later in the story.
The second thing I want to accomplish in this chapter is to show Jerrod’s motive for running. I make use of the drive into the Gallatin mountains to accomplish this, letting the reader eavesdrop on Jerrod’s thoughts. It turns out that Jerrod is not altogether sure why he decided to run. Like most people, his motives for what he does are mixed. He comes up with some rationalizations, but in the end it comes down to the fact that he sees the black box as an opportunity to get off the dead end road he is on (notice that he is literally on a dead end road as well as figuratively). This is something he cannot afford to pass up.
When I started writing this chapter, I did not know what Jerrod’s motives were. I had to get inside his head and let him tell me himself. This is why I have no explanation for his decision at the end of chapter 1. I didn’t know yet myself.
As an aside, I use this scene to do two other things as well: (1) to show how isolated the cabin is, which functions symbolically to show how isolated Jerrod had become as a result of the black box, and (3) to touch again on Jerrod’s personal story arc, that is, on his personal journey to become a better person. Thus, this scene does triple-duty.
The Black Box
The third thing I want to do in this chapter is to show Jerrod working on the problem of what’s in the black box. How do I accomplish this.
I used the OOO rubric: Objective, Obstacle, Outcome. Effective scenes are driven by objectives, by something that the character wants. There has to be an obstacle that stands between the character and his objective. Finally, there has to be an outcome. Usually the outcome is failure to accomplish the objective, which typically leads to another objective. Let’s see how this plays out in the second scene of chapter 2.
Jerrod’s objective seems simple enough: he wants to know what is in the little black box. But there is a problem, an obstacle he has to overcome in order to find out what’s in the box. He can’t get it open. Thus, the outcome is failure to achieve the objective. But his failure isn’t the result of some deficiency in him; it’s because the little black box isn’t a box at all. It is something entirely different.
I had to make a decision here. I could have limited myself to describing Jerrod’s attempts to open the box, and his subsequent descent into the Twilight Zone when it starts behaving strangely. That would have made for shorter, one-purpose scene. Instead, I decided to make the scene work harder. I made it a kind of mini-story, an adventure in its own right, in which see look over Jerrod’s shoulder as he settles into the cabin, works on trying to open the box, gets frustrated, gets surprised when the box behaves strangely, and so on.
In the process, Jerrod reveals some new things about himself. First, he is a practical person. He methodically applies various techniques and tools to solving the problem. Second, he is a patient person; he does not give up easily. Third, he talks to things and reveals a wry sense of humor. Fourth, he is persistent in the face of some very strange goings-on; which is to say, he is a courageous person. Fifth, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
As an aside, I switched objectives mid-scene. When the black box starts behaving strangely, Jerrod’s objective changes from opening the box to figuring out what it’s doing. He has a new obstacle, too; namely, the box doesn’t come with a how-to manual. And, of course, he has a new outcome, which is failure, due again not to any failure on his part, but to a rude interruption.
The fourth thing I want to do in this chapter is to show that Jerrod has some internal obstacles to overcome, as well as external ones. How do I do that?
First, I let the reader listen in on his thoughts as he reflects briefly on his life: “Jerrod was a failure living in the shadow of two over-achieving sisters, always aware of how disappointed in him his mom and dad were.” He has a massive inferiority complex. This is part of his motive for fleeing with the black box, and will turn out to be the major problem he has to solve in his personal story arc in order to become a healthy, whole person.
Second, I let the reader see him experience a PTSD attack: “He recognized the symptoms right away: his body was going into fight or flight mode. In a few seconds, the flashbacks would start — the descending screams of incoming mortar rounds, the zinging of bullets passing inches from his head, the cries for help.”
The fifth thing I want to accomplish in this chapter is to ratchet up the stakes. How do I do it:
I do at the end of the second scene with the television broadcast. If he didn’t realize he was in trouble before, he surely does now. Also, Trish has been taken into custody, presumably as an accomplice to his alleged crimes.
Notice that I did not throw in the television broadcast and the phone conversation with Parker just to fill in space. I did it with a specific purpose in mind; namely, to up the ante.
The sixth think I want to accomplish in this chapter is to put Jerrod in flight again. As long as Jerrod is being pursued by people who want the black box, we have tension, which is what stories are all about. So he has to run. How do I put him in flight?
I do it by creating another mini-adventure that comprises the third scene of the chapter. I could have ended the second scene with, “He ran,” and called it good. But that’s telling, not showing. I want the reader to see and hear and small and feel him running. So instead, I start the third scene with, “He was running now.” Note the immediacy. The reader is right there with him, running: “Through darkening woods. Through bushes. Through face-slapping tree branches. Through foot-grabbing underbrush.”
The scene ends with a passage I am especially pleased with: “Behind him was a manhunt that probably rivaled anything the great state of Montana has ever seen. Ahead of him, assuming he could get across the ravine, were some very rugged, snow-covered mountains that he’d just as soon avoid. Coming down the track at forty miles an hour was his ticket out of there.”
Notes On the Writing Process
First, I made this chapter work hard, accomplishing a lot of things at the same time. It is always a good thing if you can make a chapter or scene work double or triple or even quadruple duty.
Second, I knew what I wanted to accomplish in this chapter, but I did not know how it would happen until I started writing. I ripped this chapter out fast and furious, watching Jerrod and writing down what he thinks and does, always keeping in the back of my mind the six goals for the chapter, which formed a kind of conceptual outline for me. It’s sloppy and will need to be tightened up in revision, but I wanted to get it all out there so I knew what I have to work with.
Third, there are three kinds of conflict a character in a story can face: external, internal and interpersonal. The best stories will include all three. Two of them have emerged in the first two chapters: (1) external — what is he going to do with this mysterious device? (2) internal — how is he going to become a healthy and whole person? They were both introduced in first chapter, and I use the second chapter to develop them further.
Fourth, I thought about including a hook that I could later hang an interpersonal conflict on. I would make the dead man, Neil Anderson, the friend of Jerrod’s dad, who owned the cabin. That would explain what he was doing on the outskirts of Bozeman in the middle of the night. I would also add Anderson’s daughter to Jerrod’s recollection of they times he spent there. She would be about Jerrod’s age, and he would have played in the woods when they were children. I would then be in a position to bring her character into the story later on as an adult, and possibly as Trish’s rival for Jerrod’s heart. Then, voila!, a layer of interpersonal conflict. I even wrote her into the second scene, but pulled it out and set it aside for later consideration. There’s a lot going on in this chapter already, and I don’t know that I want to add more. I will decide later whether to add this layer to the story, once I have a better feel for where the story is going and how long it will be.