When I wrote Tank Talbott’s Guide to Girls I had no trouble deciding where to start the book…no trouble deciding how much of Trading Places with Tank Talbott needed to be included or how to weave those sections in. But I have struggled with what to include from Do You Know the Monkey Man in T.J.’s Story pretty much from day 1.
Rule #1: You should always begin a story at the moment where everything changes for the main character. For T.J., everything changed the moment Sam came into her life. That happened about halfway through Do You Know the Monkey Man, so my original plan was to begin there and show that scene from T.J.’s point of view rather than Sam’s…and dramatize scenes that happened off-stage in Do You Know the Monkey Man…and then continue on from there. My editor never liked that idea. And while I have been writing it her way, I never fully committed to her line of thinking until about two months ago (which made for some very slow going on this manuscript). Then I read through a bunch of fan mail I’ve received over the last few years on Do You Know the Monkey Man. When I read those letters and e-mails, I realized my editor was right. Readers don’t want a rehashing of book 1…they want to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
I’ve got a draft now that I’m mostly happy with. Ideally I’d like another month on it, but Editor needs to see it next week, so she will see it next week. But in the meantime, I’m still tweaking. And one of the things I’m tweaking is this scene where T.J. is on the bus to visit her mom. Originally I had a big flashback scene there, which basically dramatized the big face-to-face scene from Do You Know the Monkey Man, only this time you see the scene from T.J.’s point of view. But if Rule #1 is “always begin a story at the moment where everything changes for the main character,” isn’t Rule #2: “NO FLASHBACKS!!!”???
So I got rid of the flashback and had somebody sit down on the bus with T.J. so she could tell her story (i.e. I dumped everything the reader needed to know about Do You Know the Monkey Man into this conversation). I thought this was especially wonderful because it gives T.J. a chance to see what someone who isn’t invested in her family situation has to say about it (at this point in the story, T.J. has a hard time seeing the situation from ANYONE’S point of view other than her own). But…the lady who sits down with T.J. only appears that one time. Did that really work??? One of my most trusted readers said no. And well…I didn’t think she was wrong.
So I put the flashback scene back and then gave it to another of my most trusted readers. Big surprise…SHE didn’t like the flashback scene. (I’m still not crazy about it myself.)
So now what??? The nice old lady who sits down on the bus doesn’t work…and the flashback doesn’t work…how do I bring the reader who hasn’t read Do You Know the Monkey Man up to speed on what happened in that book? What does that reader need to know about Do You Know the Monkey Man? And where does that information belong???
Actually, both of my trusted readers had advice on that. Reader #2 offered advice on where in the story I could dole out specific bits and pieces (i.e. “put this here…put that there”) and Reader #1 gave me the WHY behind what Reader #2 did. She said, “Put back story at the point where it will make an emotional impact. Where is that in this story? Where does it matter emotionally what happened before?”
Why didn’t I come up with that on my own? Why are all my friends so much smarter than I am??? Back to my tweaking…