It’s been a while since I had a nice fat healthy substantial post, so I figured I would sit down and hammer that out (don’t worry, there’s a HUGE post coming here soon; In fact I needed to sit down and craft it out separately because it’s so huge) now.
So, it’s been close to 2 weeks since Rabbit in the Road has been out. With that in mind, I wanted to explore a few concepts that came into play while crafting Rabbit. If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry! None of this will spoil it for you. If you HAVE read it, this will definitely be enlightening for you:
1. Bevie distinctly lacks a race.
Surprisingly enough? Only a FEW people noticed that we very, very carefully went out of way to ensure that Bevie could not be racially identified. We talk about her changing her hair color, sure. But then, any woman can dye her hair any combination of colors, can’t she? We don’t talk about her skin color, eye color, or any other unique racial identifying features.
The reason for this is we wanted to make sure that people could smoothly and cleanly insert themselves into her shoes throughout the story. And even for those that didn’t notice this, it DID work. It worked quite well!
2. The story is told in 1966 for a specific reason. Namely, the vanishing act.
Truth be told, there is nothing in Rabbit in the Road that prevents it from taking place even further back in time, present day, or even the future. But one thing we actually stopped and thought about was the problem of disappearing and starting over today. You’d be VERY surprised at how difficult it is to vanish off the face of the earth without a trace anymore. We leave footprints EVERYWHERE, and this is mostly the fault of the digitization of large chunks of society.
Simply put, when you get trapped in a corner working with narrative, the easiest (and most often produces the BEST result) route is to take a look at REAL LIFE and see what the results are. If you’re not familiar with Frank Abagnale Jr., you should take a look. Frank is well known for having perpetuated some of the largest check fraud schemes of the 20th century, and changed his identity many, MANY times. The only difference between him and Bevie in this regard would be the fact that Frank was leaving a bit of a paper trail behind him, where she was not. Guess when the majority of these shenanigans went down? That’s right, in the 1960’s.
3. The story is intentionally made accessible, without being insulting to the reader.
One of the things that I had to stress to Danika very, VERY early on was the principle of “Never use a five dollar word where a fifty cent one will do.”
People love reading. They LOVE reading. Even people who hate reading, love reading. If you’re on the internet, guess what? You’re reading! But what people DON’T like, is struggling with reading. I’m sure every single one of us remembers the kid in English class, who either suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia or was just a little behind the curve when it came to reading, who got REALLY frustrated really fast when under pressure to read.
That being said, I absolutely abhor a story where often times a reader will have to stop and pick up a dictionary every other page just to figure out what the hell you’ve said in the past few paragraphs. Then they have to re-read it again, in order to get the full context. Surprise, guess what? You just broke your reader’s immersion without even realizing it. You gave them an opportunity to PUT YOUR BOOK DOWN. You, as a storyteller, should do EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER to prevent this.
Your readers are basically smart, intelligent people. Now, I’m not saying use children’s language. But what I AM saying is don’t insult the reader who doesn’t have the vocabulary of an English major. Almost everyone should be able to take in, and enjoy your tale. Keep your words within context.
4. The element of surprise can make or break your story.
Of interesting note, when speaking to readers about the content of the story, many of them were VERY surprised by the ending. In the good way, not the disappointed way. The crafting of this trick was difficult, and took several nights of deep thought in order to make it all work.
I will say that NOTHING has been so entertaining to me as a storyteller to tell people, “Did you notice that I lied to you before you even started reading the story?” Many of the readers didn’t even realize it until I pointed out what it was. This was met with “You clever son of a bitch, I didn’t even notice that!”
Many of our readers have upfront confessed that they went BACK and have read the story twice, and some even THREE times already! This pleases the Oliver a great deal.
5. A story should NEVER BE LONGER THAN IT NEEDS TO BE.
I cannot stress this enough. Out of our readers, the most consistent feedback has been “This was a GREAT length!”
The book clocks in at just a little over 35,000 words. Could we have pushed it over 40,000 and into novel length? Yes. Would it have SERVED THE STORY? No. Therefore, we didn’t.
A really good benefit of this was that it was long enough to get the readers involved, resolve questions, develop mystery, suspense and plot, but at the same time not BORING THEM. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through a story that I felt was just droning on and on and not really getting anywhere, and finally just putting it down and finding something else to do. This also leads back to point #3. The book was just long enough that it wasn’t INTIMIDATING to the struggling reader. They didn’t feel stressed out or burdened by the depth of words.
Never try to coerce more words than necessary for you tale if it serves no actual purpose. Ultimately, many of the readers are asking for more. They hungered, they were fed, they were satisfied, and they ended up asking for SECONDS. They’re now hooked.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “That!”