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The Making of a Novel: Asking "What Do You Think Will Happen Next?"

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Last night, I was invited to another Long Beach book club that had read The Threadbare Heart. There were TWO rum cakes there, and a giant bowl of the best guacamole I've ever tasted (a woman made a recipe from her Cuban grandmother -- red onion and rice vinegar. Killer good!) These were foods from the pages of the book, and it was so fun that these women had taken the time to bring them to life.

We had a lively discussion about the The Threadbare Heart, with some heated debates about drinking too much wine on purpose, incinerating a wedding ring in the wake of a fire, and whether or not kissing a certain body part that had been encased in a shoe was disgusting or desirable. The group asked what I was working on next, and I offered to read my first chapter -- the second time I made such an offer. The first time I did this -- a few weeks ago -- the group didn't believe the character was a man, which caused me a certain amount of agony. I have been reworking the pages, and this time, no one expressed any such doubt (although they DID get the wife and daughter mixed up because they thought the wife's name -- Piper -- was "young" and they thought the daughter's name -- Kate -- was "old." So those were all good things to learn. I was especially glad that my man "reads" like a man now.

After I read the first chapter, I asked the group to tell me what they thought was going to happen next. This is one of the single questions a writer can ask someone who is reading their rough drafts. If your story has translated correctly to the page, readers should be able to see the path you have set down -- at least the rough outlines of it. If your story is still largely living in your head and NOT yet on the page, your readers will have no clue, or will have fifteen different ideas, or worst of all, won't care.

In this case, the group started throwing out all these scenarios, which were relatively close to what I had planned. The general concept was definitely there. So I was thrilled! Even better, I asked them what kind of a person they thought the wife character was going to be. In the first chapter, she only speaks a few words of dialogue, and there is one short description of her. But from this tiny seed, my readers had imagined an entire life -- well, many different lives. I was intrigued to hear that all of the imagined lives shared certain characteristics. This is information I can really use to shape my character.

So today, after this rich feedback, I'm afraid that I may be throwing out Chapter 2 -- about ten pages -- and starting from scratch to get it right.