We all do, don’t we? Everyone wakes up in the middle of the night with the flash of panic. Don’t we?
Last night? Last night was bad.
SFF often leverages things to create character interactions and move a plot forward. In the film business, they’re sometimes called McGuffins: a visual focus that some characters have and others are searching for. In a film like "The Maltese Falcon", it’s prominent in the title.
To tell a visual story about a writer finishing a book, the filmmakers need tangible images. The computer. Or the little Moleskine notebook. Actors want something to hold and manipulate. Screenwriters want a visual analog for an unanswered question or a personal goal.
What woke me up last night?
Two things popped into my head. The first was a missing reveal. The Sword’s history was only a place-holder in my outline. I’m reaching the point where the lack of back-story is starting to become a problem. The sword isn't a cinematic McGuffin because there’s no teasing setup chapter. (It’s in the title, a tease doesn’t feel right.)
Consequences have consequences. Recovering (or discovering) the sword can’t be an operatic deus ex machina set piece with an orchestral flourish to move things forward. I can’t write like that because that isn't fun story telling. It would leave me having to answer side-bar questions from my partner and critic; questions from my writing partner are the leading indicators of a story that has moved out of the realm of fun. Technical writing exposition can involve sidebar exposition of things-that-had-to-be-elided. Fiction can’t.
In the movie version of writing these books, I’d grab my notebook and start writing. In the real world, I went back to sleep. I’ve got a good memory for anxiety.
The next thing that woke me up was a sort-of-bad-guy. He started out as some exposition: a conversation about some things and how folks responded. Then he started to develop bad habits. Then he turned into a sneak. In the middle of the night, I realized he isn’t just a manipulative jerk. He’s actually collaborating with the enemy.
He’s not a full member of the conspiracy trying to subvert the hero. He’s not that smart or well connected. He’s just a kind of collateral enemy who’s an opportunistic hack and a coward who won’t speak truth to power.
He’s not a full chapter of wickedness. He’s a few scenes of creepiness. He may evolve into a murky example of questionable justice, crime, and punishment. First, however, he requires some rewrites to include necessary details.
There’s no reason to grab the notebook and turn on the light and have my partner complain.
He gets his own McGuffin — a place instead of a thing — and those visual cues help bring the whole thing back to mind. I can go back to sleep with the start of the scene in mind.