Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting Those Kids Out of That Cave

Taghrid, Red Shoulder Hawk, looking huffy

I have no problem thinking up creative ways to get my characters into problems.  It's the getting them out part that I dread having to come up with.

Once I started an MG story where the two main characters ended up getting trapped in a cave.  This wasn't an ordinary cave, either.  This was more of a small, hidden room used for hiding smuggled goods.  It was solid rock on five sides and thick, heavily compressed earth on the now inaccessible entry side.

I knew having them in that cave was exactly where they needed to be for the story.  It felt right.  I just needed to get them out of the cave.

The thing was, I had no idea how.

For years (yes, years) my wife would ask me, "Are those poor kids still stuck in that cave?"

"Yes," I would say, smiling through gritted teeth.  "They're still stuck in that cave."

I could have written around their escape and come back to that tricky how-they-did-it problem later in revisions.  The thing was, I was stuck in that cave with them.  I couldn't get out and get on with the story until they got out and got on with the story.  I knew that the solution was going to be as important to them as it was to me.

This happened in Chapter Two, so they were still strangers to one another, begrudgingly having to work together.  Egos and attitudes were still being tossed around.  They were each angry at themselves for falling into their situation and at the other for not having a solution.

During a late night drive I decided to get out their way and let them talk about the problem.  I sure wasn't solving the problem I'd created.  Maybe they could.

And within a few minutes they had.  Even better, it was an ingenious solution with one of the two taking the skills of the other and turning them on their side.  

I was blown away by the elegance of the solution and how it set the tone for their relationship throughout the rest of the story.

So, when in doubt, get out of the way and allow your characters to lead the way.

-- Tom