As a writer, I'm more of a plotter than a "pantser." Before I write the first line of chapter one, I usually have a good sense of how the story is going to be structured, how its central dramatic question will be answered, its central conflict resolved, its central theme illuminated. But there is still magic that assists in the writing of the story itself.
Right now I'm working on the fifth book in the Franklin School Friends series, this time starring struggling student Cody Harmon and featuring a plot involving a school-wide pet show. The previous books established Cody as a farm kid with an affinity for animals; e.g, he brings his pet pig, Mr. Piggins, to school to be kissed by the exuberant principal, Mr. Boone, as the culmination of the reading contest in Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. In this book-in-progress I planned to have Mr. Boone appear on the day of the pet show riding into school on an elephant. I knew the story would culminate in allowing Cody to have his turn to shine at the show. But would be the obstacles along the way to his day of glory?
When I sold the book idea to my publisher, I planned for Cody's problem to be that he has too many pets and so can't afford to enter them all in the pet show, with its ten dollar entrance fee for each one (to benefit the local Humane Society). There is no way Cody can afford ten dollars for each of nine pets! I knew the solution would involve a plan where Cody would let his classmates borrow some of his pets. And one of his classmates, Izzy, star of Izzy Barr, Running Star, would fall in love with Cody's badly behaved dog, Angus, and want to keep him.
So far, so good.
But as I started to write, another problem began to appear. Cody needed to have a best friend, although no best friend had been mentioned in the previous books. Okay: it would be Tobit, another kid who struggles with school as Cody does. But what would be Tobit's role in the story?
What if. . . . what if . .. what if Tobit engages in some behavior that is unkind to some animal? So that Cody doesn't want to lend a pet to Tobit - especially his most beloved dog, Rufus? How can Cody tell Tobit this? How do we ever call others on their bad behavior without feeling intolerably self-righteous? How can Cody balance his loyalty to his friend with his loyalty to his pets - and to himself?
Here is where the magic enters. Throughout the story, Mr. Boone keeps promising the kids that he'll bring an elephant to school on the day of the pet show. The kids scoff - but hope he means it. So I Googled how to find elephants to rent out for such events. What I found was not what I expected. What I found were pleas NOT to rent elephants, not to ride them for fun at kids' birthday parties, not so support an industry that treats such magnificent beasts with indifference to their animal needs and desires.
So much for Mr. Boone arriving at school astride an elephant.
But: what if . . . what if . . . Mr. Boone himself finds out what I just found out? And changes his pet show plans? And shares this with Cody and Tobit after their hallway shoving match? Yes! That's just what I needed to deal with how to resolve the Cody/Tobit standoff!
The book is still a long way from being published. I have no idea if these scenes - if any of this - will survive the revision and editing process and make its way into the final book. But right now, I'm feeling the magic of having one plot problem solved precisely by having another plot problem arise.
In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett says this: : "Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing.
Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds,
badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us.
In this garden - in all the places.”
To this I add: "and on the page." And to this I say: "Amen."