“I have a real worker-bee mentality,” Cash tells me. She’s talking about how she built her career, but she’s really talking about everything else. This is her credo. “Just show up, just do it. Even if you feel like shit and you think you’re terrible and you’ll never get better and it will never go anywhere, just show up and do it. And, eventually, something happens.”*
Eventually something happens. I kept showing up, and something happened. No, the “something” isn’t an agent with a contract for a three-book multi-million dollar publishing deal (as if that’s why any of us write in the first place…nervous laughter…). The “something” is a finished treatment for Cora, Wander and Rose (formerly known for all those keeping track of these things as Green Acres). You know, the little summary Teacher asked me to write twenty-one days ago. The map of Cora’s world that I’m under no real obligation to follow (which makes me question why I need one). The guide that makes dashing off the first-draft a little less painful (question answered). You know. The story arc. Although, now that I think about it, a story arc is less of an actual arc and more of a series of peaks and valleys, isn’t it?
Fourteen days later I returned with a twelve-page summary.
“This is a good start.”
Teacher found a few holes. For instance, he knew I had no time for the bullying Delp brothers Warren and Darren. That I didn’t really like them. How did he know? Simple. I wrote them as paper-thin facile clichés.
But Teacher was absolutely right. I had to like the Delp brothers – or at least have sympathy for them. And once Teacher pointed out to me that Cora’s actions leading up to the climax of the story didn’t ring true to character I knew I had to dig deeper. I had to figure out a different way – a more believable way – for Cora to be at the abandoned quarry. Here’s how I did it.
I began to ask why.
Asking who, what, where and when fixes the external. Once I began to ask why I tapped into my characters motivations. The internal. Every time I thought I had an answer, I asked why again. And again. Until I peeled back all the layers and arrived at the truth for Warren and Cora. Until I discovered the sequence of events that put everyone in the right place at the right time.
Initially, the practice of writing a story arc agitated me. Not only did I feel as though I was taking a toy hammer to a brick wall, but the process itself felt artificial – forced.
But when I began to ask why my characters began talking to me again. When I listened, they told me the answers.
*These opening remarks are from Jim Windolf’s interview with Rosanne Cash that appeared in the August 9th issue of New York Magazine. It’s a great interview about an interesting woman. You can read the full article here.