Listening to the story

This part of writing, the rewrite, is why I’m glad I don’t have to produce two or three books a year.  And it’s why I’m glad (well, almost glad) that I’m not a writer who locks herself into an outline.  Because what I’m doing now is listening to the story.

The first draft gives me the plot, a series of events that leads (with a fervent Oh thank God!) to a conclusion.  It’s the rewrite that tells me what it all means.  For example, one of the book’s narrative threads involves Mycroft and his position in the Intelligence machinery of 1920s Britain, but only two weeks ago did I listen to the reverberations of that fact, and realize that the thread comes out of an event in the past that carries importance to events in the present (1924 present)—and in the future, will shift what Mycroft looks like, to Russell and to the reader.

In a Murderati post on plot twists the other day, Alexandra Sokoloff says that M. Night Shyamalan went through several drafts of “The Sixth Sense” before realizing that the character who counsels a boy seeing the dead is himself dead. Would that movie make any impact if Shyamalan hadn’t listened closely to the characters and the situation and heard the new direction?

The first draft is fixated on getting down the sequence of events: this and this and this and that.  Once the narrative arc is drawn, the writer can stand back and think about the significance.  Okay, this book begins where The Language of Bees left off (I’m assuming you saw the first line in the post I did Friday?)  Russell is headed across the main island of Orkney with her step-granddaughter, Holmes sets to sea with his wounded son.  And in the first draft I figured out where they went and what they did.  Now I’m making sure that those events not only make sense, they have an impact. 

What would it mean for a 24 year old woman who has never been around children to suddenly be responsible for an intelligent but no doubt frightened three and a half year old?  Sure, Russell is omni-competent, but is competence all a small child needs?  And because this is suspense fiction and not the leisurely tale of a step-mother’s self-discovery, anything I have to say about that growing relationship, and Russell’s awareness of it, has to be worked into the corner of the action.

Multiply times seven major characters and 420 pages, and you can see why I’m currently working 10 hour days.

This is no doubt why I so rarely read any of my stories after they’re published: because I’m terrified that if I do, the book will tell me something I missed, a revelation that changes everything, and there will be absolutely nothing I can do about it. 


  1. La Donna on August 17, 2009 at 6:40 am

    I’ve been worrying about Mary getting herself and a three year-old off Orkney. Now I’m worrying about Laurie and the Green Man and the wild fires. Everything okay? I have a spare room, broadband wireless, and a teapot (all in the nice, safe Midwest) if it gets too smoky!! Although I wouldn’t promise not to look over your shoulder …

  2. Teresa on August 17, 2009 at 6:50 am

    What you say about Russell and her stepgranddaughter interests me. How will she deal with this child, and at the same time be on the move? [I’m assuming they WON’T just head to Sussex and let Mrs. Hudson and Patrick help out.] what will the child call Mary? what will she call Mycroft? And a million other things.

    I’m so enjoying this process. And cheering you on.


  3. Kerry on August 17, 2009 at 8:00 am

    I love that you write “And because this is suspense fiction and not the leisurely tale of a step-mother’s self-discovery, anything I have to say about that growing relationship, and Russell’s awareness of it, has to be worked into the corner of the action.” Because, after all, isn’t that how relationships and awareness grow for all of us? In the corners, while we’re busy just taking care of whatever the next thing is? The way you handle these kinds of development are just one of the very many reasons I love your books!

    Hang in there, and careful of the smoke . . .

  4. TheMadLibrarian on August 17, 2009 at 9:58 am

    How old would the young lady she rescued from kidnappers in [i]The Beekeeper’s Apprentice[/i] be at this point? It’s a pity she lives in America across the ocean; she might be/have been a valuable resource as far as relating to young children.

  5. Nikki on August 17, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    ***and there will be absolutely nothing I can do about it. ***

    No worries. This is why we have fanfiction and Alice, Merrily, Yolanda, and the gang. (evil grin) Quit throwing heavy objects at the computer. You know I couldn’t resist that one. 😉

  6. Strawberry Curls on August 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I love Mycroft, full stop.

    Now I’m going to be holding my breath (well not actually but I’ll be on tenter hooks)until I can read the book and find our if this new installment changes my perception of the character. I’m not sure if I can give up my idea of Mycroft, but with your writing I’m sure I will accept and adapt to Kanon. Maybe????? 🙁

  7. Tim Harness on August 18, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Jessica Simpson would be about 15, and her mention would be fun, but not crucial to the story, says this reader.

  8. Merrily on August 19, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Fear not, Laurie, all evidence suggests that you will work all these things out just fine, including Russell’s relationship with her “granddaughter.” I agree with the previous post that her tenderness and understanding with Jessica Simpson suggests that Russell has all the right instincts.
    Thanks for the shout-out, Nikki, yes, we LOM people do enjoy flitting in and out of Laurie’s fine narratives filling in the open spots (Alice is a dab hand with Mycroft, I have to say!)
    Stil metaphorically lying by the bookshop door, head on paws, waiting for The Green Man (or whatever we’re going to call it…)

  9. Nikki on August 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm


    Isn’t it a shame Laurie couldn’t have named Alice’s character as a woman from Mycroft’s past? Alice would die of pure joy!

    Speaking of LOM, I have a nugget of an idea I’ll try to work into a FF offering for tomorrow. No promises, but I’ll try to get it down on paper by then. It’s been soooo looooong since I posted. I feel guilty only reading and enjoying but not contributing.

Leave a Comment