Thursday, May 2, 2013

When Collaborators Disagree—And Live To Tell The Tale

Love doesn’t always run a smooth path (no kidding!) and neither does collaboration. There are inevitably going to be times when co-authors—in my case, my DH, Michael—don’t see a character, a scene, even a line of dialogue the same way. 
Most of the time while Michael and I were writing our thriller, HOOKED, we were in synch but there was one scene about which we had radically different opinions. I hated it so much I deleted it. Michael, appalled, retrieved it from the trash.
The scene occurs midway through the book and involves two characters. One is Gavin Jenkins, the brilliant and charismatic miracle doctor who is at the center of the story. The other is Adriana Partos, a world-famous concert pianist who has retired at the request of her lover, billionaire tycoon, Nicky Kiskalesi. Now, however, Nicky misses Adriana’s fame and celebrity and wants her to make a come-back.
The problem is that arthritis has made it impossible for Adriana to play without pain. Nicky, who didn’t get rich by giving up, suggests she consult Gavin Jenkins, a doctor who, it seems, can cure almost anything. Adriana, reluctant but also afraid of losing Nicky, agrees to meet with Gavin.
As the scene was originally written, Adriana dislikes Gavin for intuitive reasons: she finds him “cold” and “hidden” although no specific examples of cold and/or hidden behavior are given. The scene, based on her instinctive dislike, seemed weak and unconvincing to me: ergo, the delete button.
Michael convinced me the scene was necessary and could be made to work.
The question was: how?
I trust Michael’s opinions so we had several conversations over the course of a day or two about why I hated the scene and thought it should be cut—and why he thought it was essential and should stay. We finally came to an agreement when we decided that “something” specific had to happen in the scene to validate Adriana’s dislike of Gavin.
The question was: what was the “something?”
Neither of us could come up with an incident that would work for what the reader already knows about both characters. We had solved our impasse but we now faced a new dilemma.
After another day or two of conversation and getting nowhere and still having no idea of what the “something” was, I got impatient. Typical!
Annoyed with our lack of progress, I went to the computer to rewrite the scene with our discussions in mind. I began by taking out the language referring to Adriana’s “intuitive” dislike of Gavin—his “coldness” and “hidden” personality. Cutting, as it so often does, equalled improvement.
Still, what was going to happen next? I had no idea but when I got to the lines that describe Gavin taking her arm in an intimate, almost caressing way and giving her the shot for which he has become renowned, the words, apparently of their own volition, popped out of my unconscious and emerged on the screen:
“You’ve never felt this good, have you?” he whispers seductively as he presses down on the syringe and the fluid enters her vein.
That brief line of dialogue—unplanned and unanticipated—gave us the specific, dramatic “something” we needed.
Appalled by Gavin’s creepy whispered question, Adriana slaps him. He reacts by calling her a bitch. He wants to give her a second (different) injection but she walks out on him and leaves his consulting room. The scene ends with Adriana standing on the sidewalk outside his office and remembering the bulge in his pants.
Had she been seeing things?, she wonders. Imagining things? Or did he have an erection as he administered the shot?
Since we already know about Gavin’s sexual quirks from earlier scenes, we now had a compelling scene that advances the plot, creates conflict between Adriana and the gifted doctor whose help she will depend on if she is to resume her career and keep her lover. The rescued scene also adds a new dimension to Gavin’s intriguing, slightly sinister character.
Sometimes disagreement is the friction that produces the pearl. Sometimes disagreement is part of the process of getting from the problem to the solution. In this instance, it was both.

 HOOKED, A Thriller

"Written by pros who know how to tell a story. Slick and sexy!" —Publisher's Weekly

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  1. What a great example of how collaboration can result in better storytelling--even if there's some stress along the way.

    1. Thanks, Anne. It was really quite an amazing experience. In the beginning I just couldn't see how that scene was salvageable. Little by little, as we thrashed it out, I began to see M's point but it was only when I sat down to rewrite that the needed words came to me. A perfect example of the subconscious at work.