Let’s go back to the slushy dark afternoon of my first post. Remember how I played sleuth and trailed the SUV? Already the painting on the back window had generated the makings of a plot. But a bit of tailgating yielded extra details: the birth date was Dec. 31, 2001, and the date of death was May 4, 2010. Nicholas wasn’t even ten when he died. A new lens dropped over my eyes; the curvy lines on each side of Nicholas’ name refocused themselves into stylized wings. Now I imagined the relentlessly unforgiving grandfather aiming rage at a drunken driver, or a murderer. (During the past week, several commentators said that this scenario was their first guess.) Was this painted on the grandfather’s car as notice of planned revenge? There’s an entirely different plot than any I’d first spun out for a novel. I remember wondering: Had the grandfather just had this painted on his car yesterday to commemorate Nicholas’ birthday? What did the message mean, and who was the intended recipient? Oh, maybe a plot twist—had the grandfather been estranged from the grandson’s parent, and been kept away from him?
Now, how about this: What if, after the second chapter of a novel generated from these musings, a reader were to find out that the grandfather is newly dead too, and the owner of the car is his grieving widow who thinks that her husband will arrange revenge for the death of her grandson from “the other side.” Ideas swirled in the wind between our two vehicles, some sticking like the ice on my windshield, others bouncing off. Will I want to write this book? (It’s a question I ask myself all the time, often later forgetting the source of an image, when or where I saw something, unless I’ve stored more notes about it in my written-down ideas file.)
Let’s say the answer is yes. Which plot would I want to use? One of the first that came to me, described in the Jan. 1 post, which turned out to be based on limited details, might be rich and unique because it would be the less expected direction, yet a wholly human possibility. Or maybe I am just more attracted to what I think I could develop in a book based on my own history and experience. More on this in the next post!
A writer’s choice of detail is critical. I can’t use everything or the work would just be cluttered and unfocused. The details I use will color every aspect of the work. Details always affect the tone, generate emotion, and develop character. In this case, they would even direct the plot. As an author, I can take this SUV scene from life and pick–or change–details to take a novel in various directions. That’s, of course, why it’s called fiction.