Monday, May 3, 2010

The AK-47 Over the Mantel

        In a story I'm working on, the heroine takes off a ring to wash her hands and leaves it on a sink.
        The first time one of my critique partners heard this she said, "that ring better show up again."

        Well, it does.  A whole plot point hinges on it, in fact.  But a recent news story made clear to me that there were more realistic ways to deal with the dilemma. Still, I like that ring. Tells us something about the characters and how they interact with each other, even if it's no longer entirely necessary to set them in motion.
        After hearing the pesky news story, I had to go back to a scene in the beginning of my story and add another little bit of business to explain why "they can't just do that."  Because this is a romance, damn it, and a forgotten ring is more fun and juicy than  a paper trail.
        Maybe they'll both work out. Maybe they won't.  It's still a work in progress.

        So where'd this notion come from, anyway, that you can plant evidence but not props?

       Anton Chekhov, apparently.   In an 1889 letter he wrote,  "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."
       He became so enamored of the line, he used it at least twice more: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there" [1904] and, "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." [1911]

       I used to agree.  But you know what?  I'm not so sure anymore.  Chekhov was a Russian.  He should know all about misdirection and red herrings, right?
      I mean, there's nothing I hate worse than a deus ex machina ending or learning that Miss Peacock has an evil twin on the last page. I'd rather have my attention misdirected to the gun on the wall, even if it IS misleading. I'd rather suspect all along that Col. Mustard did it, even if it turns out that Miss Peacock conked someone in the conservatory with a potted fern (as long as we'd walked by that potted fern half a dozen times), rather than  have Professor Plum bumble in at the eleventh hour and confess he burned the victim to death with a magnifying glass, when you didn't even know academics had been invited to the house party.

        So I'm keeping my blasted ring for now.  Until I figure something else out.

18 comments:

JL Walters said...

Terri, I don't know enough of the story but the ring and forgetting it is good in a romance.

Terri said...

Wow. Janet. Johnny-on-the-Spot. I hadn't even finished editing the thing yet!

Liz said...

in the same thread of the Russian writer - apparently British writers have in alot of instances dropped the comma - should I move there so I don't have to worry about commas?

Terri said...

Many American publishers are dropping commas these days too. (Like that I was taught should have been between "days" and "too.") For me, it's the way I pause as I'm thinking and I scatter them in too readily--often where they shouldn't be in the first place.
Years ago, a very funny poster on some message boards I belonged to, chastised someone else for scattering them like croutons.
Personally, I prefer to think of them as bacon bits.
I will now go through again and try to remove them.

Kat Attalla said...

Since I'm the partner who said the ring should show up again, you know my opinion. But it is just that, MY opinion.

Terri said...

Oh, it shows up.

Wendy Marcus said...

Okay, so this is totally out in left field, but on the last day of our honeymoon, my husband and I had to check out of our hotel in Puerto Rico by 11:00. Our flight out wasn't until the evening. The hotel provided a room for guests to shower before leaving. My husband took off his brand new wedding band and placed it, for some reason, on the back of the toilet. So I'm sure you know what happened next. We get dressed and leave and we're just getting into the taxi to the airport when he realized he left his ring in the room. He runs upstairs and another couple was already in the room. Luckily they opened the door and he got the ring and we made our flight home.... He lost the ring a few months later while playing baseball.

Gina Rosavin said...

The thing I love about the ring is the emotional reactions to that act. That was almost enough for me, it could be gone forever and never seen again, just the fact it was forgotten - that alone made the whole thing significant to me.

I do think in a story like yours, red herrings are important though. Then again, I'm one of those who can never pick up on them, so I always end up surprised.

Terri said...

Wendy -- Awwww.
My father never wore a wedding ring a day in his life. And now that my mom's gone, she's all he talks about. Well, her and his grandchildren. And his WAR.

Terri said...

Gina -- Yeah. I sooooo agree. LOL.
GMTA and all that jazz.

Wendy Marcus said...

GMTA? Where's the blog glossary?

Terri said...

Great Minds Think Alike!

Carly Phillips said...

Give me a headache why don'tcha. But I agree :)

Gina Rosavin said...

GMTA has been a running theme today!

Terri said...

Knowing you and your headaches, that's the last thing I'd want to do!
Nice loot for the Brenda Novak auction, btw!
Hope your donations rake in the moolah!

Terri said...

Hasn't it, though?
Speakin' of headaches.

Jennifer Probst said...

I think it depends on what category you're reading. If it's a suspense/mystery - I am always looking for red herrings. If it's a straight romance, I am looking for it to show up again. I have been pre-programmed as a reader/writer so I guess whatever you decide will work! Love this ring conversation though...very entertaining...

Terri said...

Not sure anymore. But it's almost at the 21k point so I guess it's something.

Hey, you guys, click on "Dickens" at the top of this page and play along. Just humor me.

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