The Oops Factor

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Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

 

The Oops Factor

Sometimes your story is cruising along and you start writing the climax and you really want to have something extra dramatic happening—but you realize the big thing that would absolutely make your story amazing . . . is not something you have been building up to. At all.

Oops.

Luckily, we have a solution for that.

For example, in The Navigators I decided to have a character have a really, really, really great secret that comes out about halfway through the story. I thought it up when I was about halfway finished writing the first draft, and it was such a good idea I almost cried. I hadn’t put any aspects of it into the story at all. It would be a surprise, but a crappy one. A cheat. And if it was a cheat, it’d make my story less, not more.

But I wanted amazing.

And I didn’t want to rewrite 20 chapters.

What I had to do was then go back and say, “Okay, in order to have that moment when I want it, what do I need to have happened earlier?”

It’s not going to be every word of every chapter.

In fact, it’s probably going to only require adding a line here and there, deleting a line here and there, and tweaking some dialogue in a few places.

I was able to obscure the character’s motives earlier but not tip off what was coming – and also not give any incorrect indicators the other way. I had to look at certain reactions and certain things the character said, and make them correct for the scene without hinting that more was in the answer.

Sounds hard, but it’s not.

Let’s just say somebody has a pet and they don’t refer to what kind it is until chapter 20, but at chapter 20 the kind of pet the person has is a big deal. (It’s an example. Work with me.)

We start by just refer to the pet as Fuzzy.

Now, if Fuzzy is a cat but we don’t want readers to know he’s a cat until chapter 20, then we don’t say something like you gave him cat food in chapter 1 – and you don’t want to say you gave him dog food as a decoy, either, because that’s a cheat. Be honest as you can while still being obscure. Many of you are women; you innately know how to do that. But don’t cheat by saying dog fed and then reveal it’s a cat that likes to eat dog food, because readers hate cheats. You might say you fed Fuzzy and not specify what you fed him.

And then you would think about obscure way to refer to Fuzzy. “He/him” if it’s a male, “the animal” or “my pet,” anything to avoid saying the word “cat.”

In this chapter, we have a hurricane brewing. By now it won’t be a huge spoiler to tell you that’s gonna be one of the main things the family has to deal with. Or they will be dealing with things in the middle of a hurricane.

Read it, and I’ll continue my lesson at the bottom.


Chapter 20 “FINAL”

 

If Tampa had a big sister, it would be New Orleans. “’Nawlins,” as the locals there pronounce it, has Mardi Gras, an insane weeklong festival of partying and debauchery. Tampa has Gasparilla.

The Big Easy has the French Quarter, full of restaurants and bars, but also with back alleys with prostitution and drugs, side streets to eerie haunted houses, and a strange, mystical subculture of street performers and magicians.

Tampa—also known as Big Guava at times—has Ybor City.

A smaller version of Mardi Gras, Gasparilla in Ybor, pronounced “ee-bor” is a unique slice of Tampa’s looser side. Like it’s big sister, Ybor was part bar scene, part art district, and part loony bin, catering to the young and restless. New late night party spots stood right next to upscale restaurants that had been local favorites for a hundred years. Ybor had dancing and celebrities. Every time a Super Bowl came to town, Ybor was where you’d find the Who’s Who. When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, Ybor partied ‘til dawn, had a cup of Cuban coffee, and kept right on going.

New Orleans may have been the original, but Ybor City was a good local alternative. Both had the reputation of being able to deliver anything and everything a person could dream of. You want it? They have it.

Including voodoo.

If such a thing as voodoo exists, and some believe it does, New Orleans had it in spades. Marie Laveau, maybe the most famous voodoo practitioner ever, was practically the queen of the city’s mystical side way back when. Voodoo was almost an industry in The Big Easy. The city was full of all kinds of witches and spell spinners, fortune tellers and healers. Some were allegedly legit; others were just an obvious show for tourists. But a mambo, the real name for a voodoo high priestess, was serious business to believers. If I had prowled the seedy offshoots of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street long enough, I would have found one who could’ve help me, I’m sure.

And if they would have one, we would have one.

I wasn’t really in a position to not look into any source I could find. Everybody knew Ybor had some mystical stuff going on late at night. Voodoo and Santoria, it’s darker, uglier cousin, were common there, just not practiced in the light of day. And it was only a twenty minute drive away.

I pulled my cell phone from the cup holder of my car and checked the time. Too early in the day to go now, I could probably find what I was looking for tonight. Late, after midnight.

Besides, I wanted to be sure to consider everything, like Father Frank had suggested. Now I had a second option, even if Frank might not have approved of it. Just thinking it up made me feel better. Instead of going home, I pulled into a gas station to fill up and wait for Tyree’s call.

Idly watching the numbers roll over as the pump churned and clicked, laid out my plan. Tonight I could grab my keys and make an excuse to Mallory. It almost wouldn’t matter what I said. She’d know I wouldn’t have a good reason to go out at midnight, especially in a bad rain, but she seemed upset enough this morning to allow me to do just about anything. The image of her sliding to the floor in tears put a wave of uneasiness through me. I had to make some progress—any progress—and no easy answers were presenting themselves. She would be supportive, to a point.

If I waited for her to get sleepy, odds are I could get out and back before she had time to think about worrying.

I sat in the car scratching my chin. In the meantime, what would I need? Some cash. What else? I couldn’t think of anything. I headed to the bank.

Tyree said he had an office in Tampa somewhere. It might be worthwhile to drive by and check it out—if it could be found. The online county appraisal records would tell me who owed a property, and I could search for the owner’s name online, but if he rented the space his name wouldn’t show up. If his business was incorporated, a records search might give a name and address, but often as not those were the company’s lawyer’s office, not the physical location of the business or it’s owner’s home address. Besides, who says the Help For The Hopeful was even a corporation or a registered entity? Or if John Reed was even a real name?

Damn. I shook my head. Every option had flaws. Major flaws.

Still, talking to him was worth a shot. The safety of my wife and daughter were worth embarrassing myself over meeting with a con man if that’s what he was. So if there was some due diligence I’d later wish I had done, now was the time to try to do it. And I had time to kill.

My cell phone pinged with a text from Mallory. Sophie and I are going shopping. Do u need anything?

Good. She needed to get out of the house for a while and clear her head. Glancing at the road, I tapped out a quick reply. No. Have fun.

The image came again, of her sliding to the kitchen floor. Our daughter crying. I sent another text. Drive safe. I love you.

I looked out the window. Sunny Florida wasn’t so sunny today. The big storm hovering out in the Atlantic had made the weather unpredictable, raining and stopping with abandon. One minute, it was coming down like a fire hose, the next minute, the rain would stop and the sun would pop out. But the wind was getting fiercer all the time, pushing my big SUV around on the road.

Even so, I was glad Mallory was going out. She needed a distraction, and shopping with Sophie would be a good one.

The phone pinged again. I love you too.

About an hour after we hung up the first time, and right when he said he would, Tyree called back.

“So, Doug, tell me about what kind of problem we are dealing with.” From the background noise, it sounded like he was driving.

This was it. Time to let it all out. I’d thought about what to say and even jotted down some notes when I got home, but it didn’t matter. The words just spilled out. Before I knew it, I’d told him everything.

He didn’t sound alarmed at all. “The tragedies all took place around the same time of year, too?”

“Yeah, within a few days of each other, really, almost like they were scheduled.” I paced back and forth through the living room, rubbing the back of my neck. “I don’t know if we’re unlucky or crazy or possessed or what, but my wife and I both believe that it can’t be a coincidence anymore. And then there was a recurring nightmare that we were both having . . .”

“Well, from what you’re saying, let me tell you up front that I don’t think you’re crazy.”

I shook my head. “God, why not?”

“I’ve done this before. Crazies sound different. You sound upset, not insane. I believe your story.”

“No offense, but you kind of have to say that even if you’re scamming me, don’t you?” I hated to antagonize the guy, but it needed to be addressed. I wanted help, but I was a skeptic, too, and not looking to get ripped off or make things worse.

“I understand your defensiveness, Doug. I’d have my guard up, to, if I were you, too. Don’t worry about offending me. I’m not going to ask you for money or too much personal information. We don’t work like that.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Well, ‘we’ is me and my associates. A loose collection of affiliations I’ve built up over the years through the church and law enforcement, that sort of thing. We can get into all that when we meet.”

I was watching his technique from what I remembered at the marketing firm. He had called me by name, in a friendly and reassuring manner—that’s supposed to build rapport and lower defenses. He’d been calm and reassuring, and seemed to be offering a solution if I agreed to follow his lead. It was all basic sales steps—and basic con man steps—and I didn’t yet know which. Asking for the meeting was the next step in getting my commitment.

Those stories about an old lady who ends up giving all her money to a con man, they all start this way. He seemed trustworthy. He said he didn’t want any money. Next thing you know, she’s broke and he’s gone.

Scammers have to model good behavior like legit people do. otherwise it’s too easy to figure out they’re scammers.

So my guard was up and was staying up. “Mr. Tyree, again, no offense, but do you have some references I can check you out with?”

“It’s just Tyree, not Mr. Tyree. And Doug, at some point you’re going to have to trust somebody. It doesn’t have to be me, but it’s going to have to be somebody.” His voice was calm and even, not upset at all. Very matter of fact. He could have been talking about the weather. “My guess is, if you were having success doing things your way, you wouldn’t have called me. And you did call me. But that’s a side point. Most do that after they’ve tried talking to their church and their friends. Is that about where we are?”

The classic blow off. Tell them they can’t have something, and people want it twice as bad. Salespeople used it all the time, just like carnival barkers did. And scammers. I’d seen Christian Bale do it in that con man movie, American Hustle.

But Tyree was right. I didn’t have a lot of options and I’d pretty much already run through them. Ybor City might not pan out, and even if it did, I’d eventually have to trust somebody to help me.

Meeting him might be a good first step towards deciding if he was a con artist or not.

“The established churches don’t usually get into this stuff directly,” Tyree said. “Mostly it would be the Catholic Church, and the high ups won’t even do it right now?”

“Why not?” Over the cell phone, I couldn’t tell if he was implying “we” or “they” tone when he referenced the Church.

“Something like this can get a look when it’s really clear cut. When the host nation is sympathetic, or when it’s a good story. You know, something like a little girl who gets possessed by a demon, stuff like that.”

I thought about that. “Isn’t that pretty much what this is? A family being inexplicably terrorized?”

“Wrong country, my friend. The Vatican is a little pissed at the U.S. right now. So it’s a no go. Our media is too crazy, our politics. It’s a lot of things. Too bad you don’t live in Guatemala. I could get you direct access in Guatemala.”

“Maybe I should move.”

“Anyway, in places that they feel are less hospitable, they outsource, so they can keep their hands clean.”

He paused.

“You’re making all this up, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Could be!” Tyree laughed. “You’re better off not knowing, aren’t you? How does knowing my methods and sources help your cause? Allow me: it doesn’t.”

I blinked. “But the Church was helpful . . .”

“Were they? You went out and found me after talking to them, didn’t you?”

Tired of the verbal volleyball, I gave up. The long night and longer day had worn me down. I had to start trusting somebody.

“Okay.” I sighed. “What time do we meet?”


 

Original Chapter 20, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

If Tampa had a big sister, it would be New Orleans. “Nawlins,” as the locals there pronounce it, has Mardi Gras; Tampa has a smaller version of the same thing, called Gasparilla. The Big Easy has the French Quarter; Tampa – also known as Big Guava at times – has Ybor City, a smaller version of the same thing. Ybor, pronounced “ee-bor” is a unique slice of Tampa’s fun side. Part bar scene, part art district, Ybor catered to the young and restless. It had all the late night party spots you could ask for, right next to upscale restaurants that had stood for a hundred years. It had dancing and it had celebrities. When a Super Bowl or some other top shelf event was in town, Ybor was where you’d find the Who’s Who. When the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, Ybor partied til dawn – and then had a cup of Cuban coffee and kept right on going.

New Orleans may have been the original, and nothing can match their Mardi Gras celebrations, but Ybor City was a good local alternative, even if it was a somewhat scaled down one. No doubt, Nawlins was bigger, better, and had more of everything you could want.

Including voodoo.

If such a thing as voodoo exists, and some believe it does, New Orleans had it in spades. Marie Laveau, maybe the most famous voodoo practitioner ever, was practically the queen of the city’s mystical side way back when. Voodoo was almost an industry in Nawlins. The city was full of all kinds of priestesses and spell spinners, fortune tellers and healers. Some were legit; others were just a show for tourists. But a mambo, the real name for a voodoo high priestess, was serious business to believers. If I prowled the seedy offshoots of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street long enough, I’d find one who could help me, I’m sure.

And if they had one, we had one.

I wasn’t really in a position to not look into any source I could find. Everybody knew Ybor had some mystical stuff going on late at night. All I had to do was make the 20 minute drive.

It was too early in the day to go right now, but tonight I could probably find what I was looking for. Besides, I wanted to be sure to consider everything, like Father Frank had suggested. Now I had a second option, even if Frank might not have approved of it. Just thinking it up made me feel better. I decided to get gas for the car while I waited for Tyree’s call.

Tonight I would grab my keys and make an excuse to Michele. She’d know I wouldn’t have a good reason to go out around midnight, especially in a bad rain, but she was getting upset enough to start considering just what options were really available in all this, too. She would be supportive – to a point. If I waited for her to get sleepy, odds are I could get out and back before she had time to think about worrying.

In the meantime, what would I need? Some cash; what else? I couldn’t think of anything. I headed to the bank.

If Tyree had an office in Tampa somewhere, it might be worthwhile to drive over and check it out – if it could be found. Appraisal records would show who owed a property, and you could search for a property owner’s name online; but if he rented the office, his name wouldn’t show up. A corporate records search might show a name and address, but often as not those were the lawyer’s office, not the physical location. Besides, who says the Help For The Hopeful was even a corporation or a registered entity? Or if John Reed was even a real name?

Still, talking to him was worth a shot. And if there was some due diligence I would later wish I had done, now was the time to try to do it. And I had time to kill.

My cell phone pinged with a text from Michele. “Savvy and I are going shopping. Do u need anything?”

Good. She needed to get out of the house for a while and clear her head. “No,” I texted back.

Then I added. “Drive safe. I love you.”

I looked out the window. Sunny Florida wasn’t so sunny today. The tropical storm that sat hovering out in the Atlantic had made the local weather unpredictable, raining and stopping with abandon. One minute, you’d be getting dumped on in buckets; the next minute, the rain would stop. But the wind was getting stronger all the time. My words to Michele were a caution, but also a way to let her know that I was thinking about her. She needed a distraction; shopping with Savvy would be a good one.

The phone pinged again. “I love you too” she wrote back.

About an hour after he said he would, Tyree called back.

“So, Dan, tell me about what kind of problem we are dealing with.” From the background noise, it sounded like he was driving.

“There were three tragedies,” I explained. “They all took place around the same time of year. Within a few days of each other, really; like they were scheduled, almost. I don’t know if we’re unlucky or if we’re possessed or anything like that. But my wife and I both believe that it can’t be a coincidence any more. And then there was a recurring nightmare that we were both having…”

“Well, from what you’re saying, let me tell you up front that I don’t think you’re crazy,” Tyree stated.

“No offense, but you kind of have to say that even if you’re scamming me, don’t you?” It was a bold move, but it needed to be addressed. I wanted help, but I was a skeptic, too, and not looking to get ripped off and make things worse.

“I understand your defensiveness,” Tyree said. “Dan, I’d have my guard up if I were you, too. Don’t worry about offending me. I’m not going to ask you for money. We don’t work like that.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Well, ‘we’ is me and my associates. A loose collection of affiliations I’ve built up over the years through the church and law enforcement, that sort of thing. We can get into all that when we meet.”

So far, I was watching his technique. He had called my by name, in a friendly manner, to build rapport and lower my defenses. He had been calm and reassuring, and seemed to be offering a solution if I agreed to follow his lead. It was all basic sales steps – and basic con man steps – and I didn’t yet know which. Asking for the meeting was the next step in getting my commitment…

You know when you read those stories about an old lady who gave all her money to a con man? This is the stuff you always find yourself asking as you read them. Why did you trust him? How could you meet with him? Well, he seemed so trustworthy. Scammers have to model good behavior just like legit people do. Otherwise it’s too easy to figure out they’re scammers. So my guard was up.

“Mr Tyree, again, no offense, but do you have some references I can check you out with?”

“It’s just Tyree, not Mr Tyree; and Dan, at some point you’re going to have to trust somebody. It doesn’t have to be me, but it’s going to have to be somebody. My guess is, if you were having success doing things your way, you wouldn’t have called me. And you did call me; I didn’t call you. But that’s a side point. The real thing is, most people get around to calling me after they’ve tried talking to their church and their friends. Is that about where we are?”

The classic blow off. Tell them they can’t have something, and people want it twice as bad. Salespeople used it all the time, just like carnival barkers did.

But he was right. I didn’t have a lot of options and I’d pretty much already run through them. He was also right that I’d have to trust somebody to help me. Meeting him might be a good first step towards deciding if he was a con artist or not.

“The established churches don’t usually get into this stuff directly,” Tyree went on. He spoke with a kind of insider’s knowledge. “Mostly it would be the Catholic Church, and they won’t even do it right now?”

“Why not?” I asked. Over the cell phone, I couldn’t tell if he had said “we” or “they” when he mentioned Catholic Church.

“The high-ups in the Church will allow a look when it’s clean cut. When the host nation is sympathetic; when it’s a good story. You know, something like a little girl who gets possessed by a demon, stuff like that.”

I thought about that. “Isn’t that pretty much what this is? A family being inexplicably terrorized?”

“Wrong country, my friend. The Vatican is a little pissed at the U.S. right now. So it’s a no go. Our media is too crazy, our politics; it’s a lot of things. Too bad you don’t live in Guatemala. I could get you direct access in Guatemala.”

“Maybe I should move.”

“Anyway, in places that they feel are less hospitable, they outsource, so they can keep their hands clean.”

He paused.

“You’re making all this up, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Could be!” Tyree said with a laugh. “You’re better off not knowing, aren’t you? How does knowing my methods and sources help your cause? Allow me: it doesn’t.”

“But the Church was helpful…”

“Were they? You went out and found me after talking to them, didn’t you?”

Tired of the verbal volleyball, I gave up. I had to start trusting somebody.

“Okay,” I said with a sigh. “What time do we meet?”


ANALYSIS

 

I didn’t think about adding a hurricane to my story until I was pretty far into writing the first draft. And knowing what I do about hurricanes, they don’t just pop up. You could have a tornado pop up all of a sudden, or some rain, but not a hurricane. So what I did was, I said “Okay how does a hurricane happen? What are the steps an average person would be aware of?” The forecasters on the news would be to talking about it for days, but before that it would start out as a tropical storm. And before that, you might not even know there was a problem. You might be talking about how nice the weather was.

Remember Doug referencing Spanish galleons? Did that stick out in your head at all? No, but now that I mentioned it, you probably recall him saying something about calm sunny days often preceding hurricane weather, and that’s why there are so many Spanish ships sunk off the coast of Florida; the weather was nice when they set sail. Remember now? Odds are you knew Spanish ships have been sunk off the coast of Florida before I told you, too. It fits.

So that’s what I did. I wrote down the steps involved in a hurricane, and then I went back and at key points in the story, I had the main character refer to the weather

Ordinarily you might sit there and say, “Oh my gosh, I’m 20 chapters into my story and I forgot something!” or “I came up with something that really would be great, but I’m halfway done and…”

PANIC!!

Hey, in the old days that might’ve been a big problem. We use word processing software programs like Word, so we can fix it. Think about the steps and go back and add them in where they won’t be obvious. My character spends a lot of time thinking to himself so in the middle of the night he wakes up with a nightmare but he also mentions the wind howling outside.

In earlier chapters he talks about it being sunny, then later he mentions a drizzling rain. By the time he gets to the gas station, he’s talking about how the wind is pushing his car around on the road and how the rain is coming down horizontally. Also, on select occasions he mentions the weather forecasters talking about the possible tropical storm, then the new hurricane.

By laying it out and folding it in, I eradicated the problem of my late decision to have a hurricane for my climax scene later.

Does it help in other ways with the story? Sure. He now has to do things in the rain when it wasn’t rainy before, but that’s just a tweaked line somewhere, or adding a line. Also, gets to worry about leaving his house later in the middle of a very windy rainy night.

If your story needs a big moment at the end, don’t be afraid to make sure it work by going back and addressing it at appropriate times earlier in the story – and by doing it in the middle of something else, so it’s not obvious that you are raising red flags, but readers are still aware enough of it in their mind that it doesn’t seem out of place when it happens.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

16 thoughts on “The Oops Factor

  1. My publisher has recently come back to me and said they LOVE the new book – but can I squeeze a murder in there too? A whole murder, really? Luckily I like murders and am good them, so hell yeah we can have a murder in there. Maybe even two. But this would be a massive pain in the bumbalina if it weren’t for Word! (other word processing software is available 😉 )

    Liked by 2 people

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