I woke up this morning, talking to myself.

It’s an affliction of drafting daily: I hear voices. It’s perfectly okay. I know whose voices they are; they belong to my characters. Weirdly, we talk about how the story is going as if I’m the stage director and they are the actors. I listen. Soon they’re taking places to act out the crucial scene. We step back and discuss it.

I’ve migrated from the sleepy warm bed to my office, conveniently outside my bedroom. I pace in my pajamas. The scene “we” are working on is the final climax. It’s the whole reason we’re here. I’m not ready to write this scene, but today I rehearse it and ask questions. It’s important that every other scene leads to the clarity of this one moment. So we chat, my characters and me.

Thought for Day Five:

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
~Leigh Brackett, WD

Are you listening to the people you are plotting about? If they were to tell you the story of your novel, what would they say? Imagine having a cup of coffee with your characters. Talk out loud to them. Listen to what they say in return. Knowing them as intimately as waking up in bed with them will do more to fuel your plot than anything. Plot is people.

Do you talk to your characters?

Day Five: 1,811 words

Excerpt from Rock Creek

Then there were other wagon trains that espoused those who already knew hardship. Many of the women wore sorrow on their faces having to leave behind mothers, sisters, precious carved furnishings too heavy for even the massive Conestogas. One woman last week lamented that she had no fine china to receive the soup. Nancy Jane told her not to fret; that the beans weren’t worthy of fine china. Another woman asked if she was going to pass out those fine looking molasses cookies piled up behind her. Nancy Jane turned to look at the chips and told her those weren’t for supper. The woman offered to give her a copper for one, maybe two. The man behind the woman declared in a loud voice, “Madam, those are chips of dried buffalo dung and I don’t think those lumbering creatures eat molasses.”

Despite the delicate nose wrinkles many eastern wives gave the chips, Nancy Jane knew that once they passed the 100th meridian there would be no wood for warmth or cooking. Those women would come to appreciate the plentiful chips although they were not fit for eating. Nancy Jane tossed another chip on the fire and resumed serving beans until all had passed through. If the beans were not completely eaten, she’d used them to soak the next batch. The road ranch owner was particular about not wasting anything. At least he paid her once a week and she was saving up money for when the season ended.

Tending to children on the trail wasn’t easy and sickness was common. Nancy Jane had her own child on the way, but she wasn’t traveling, just serving beans or stew to those who were. She carefully watched for runny noses or feverish eyes. Often the cholera started with the very young or the very old. Sometimes it just started and took hearty and hale lives. One freighter advised Nancy Jane to boil her water even if there were no squirming worms in it. She didn’t want to get sick, mostly on account of Pa. It would do him in to lose another family member and who would watch out for him? He was working in the long barn with John Hughes, fixing wheel spokes or carving carry-all boxes. Irish John, as folks in Jones Territory called him so as not to confuse him with Welsh John Hughes, was a blacksmith’s apprentice. He could fix simple parts and made decent looking hooks for camp fire cooking.

Irish John watched Nancy Jane in a way that made her feel cornered. One day when she had gone into the barn to tell her Pa she was going to ride Hunk into the Blue River woods to shoot something better than what they had in the salt pork barrel, he pulled her aside and put his work blackened hand on her bump of a belly. “I know what you’ve done to get this, girl,” he said in a low, fierce tone, his brown eyes looking like a child who found a hard candy in the dirt.

“I know, too and this baby’s Pa is Russian cavalry and he knows what to do with a bayonet.”

It wasn’t an out and out lie, but somehow rumors picked up after that incident, claiming Nancy Jane was married to a Cossack. She was pretty sure she had heard Eustace say a few things that sounded like he didn’t like Cossacks, whoever they might be, but if it put fear in men like Irish Hughes, then she’d not correct the tale.

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