Sunday, February 24, 2008


On May 9, 2007 Tupperware announced Brooke Shields as the celebrity spokesperson for Tupperware’s "Chain of Confidence" campaign in the USA. The campaign invites women to celebrate the strong bonds of female friendships and the self-confidence derived from those relationships.

I‘m generally not a yeller. In the face of adversity, I’m usually more in the problem-solving mode than the victim mode.

So why, the other day, was I in my kitchen howling? Because a whole raft of plastic containers and lids—-separate and I’m sure none matching any other-—came tumbling clattering sliding down onto my head from the highest shelf in the cabinet. Apparently they were finally executing their long-plotted plan to escape.

It was hilarious, I’m sure, if you aren’t the one being buried in a plastic avalanche. I tried to bat them away, unsuccessfully, as they attacked me. I wound up surrounded by plastic stuff, the cabinet empty, the floor covered. Me enraged.

To make it worse, my darling husband started laughing, always a mistake in situations like this, and he later told me I was yelling “Why? Why?” (Kind of like Nancy Kerrigan without the little skirt.)

Why? Why? As if the world doesn’t allow things to happen without a reason. (And it doesn’t count that the reason is that I had Fibber McGee’d them into the cabinet and of course they were gonna fall.)

But it got me thinking. In books, nothing should happen without a reason. And if Charlie McNally had Tupperware fall on her head, there would have to be a bigger picture reason why. To prove she's disorganized. Or a pack rat. Or to remind her of gravity, which then reminds her of a clue.

When I was editing PT from 743 pages down to 323, I did it by asking why, why, why. Why is this scene here? Why does this character say that? Why does she drive to the police station? And if it didn’t mean something, out it went.

So—shall we talk about motivation? Or-- whether anyone has conquered the Tupperware problem? (Hallie, I think I still have one container of yours…)

JAN: I feel the exact same way when I inadvertently create a mini earth quake or catastrophe -- which is not an infrequent occurrence. Why me?? Why have the Kitchen Gods done this to me now? Right now when I was (probably) rushing to get something done in the too-little time I always leave for it. And now have five minutes to get somewhere twenty minutes away.

But that's me. I have a feeling you are better with time management. And your tupperware catastrophe was probably a good omen. In fact I'm sure someone must have done a Feng Shui book about how Tupperware earthquakes in your "wealth corner" or "creativity corner" are predictive of good fortune!!! The tumbling out of fortuituous ideas..... See if you are a novelist Hank, you can make up a new meaning for every life event!

As to writing a scene -- I think every little bit of dialogue, action and characterization has to be there for a reason, or else we don't have storytelling -- we have life as it is -- with all its randomness and tedium. NO one wants to read about actual life. We want to read the meaningful, moving, suspenseful and condensed version.

RO: I tend to write lean so when I ask why, I generally have to add stuff as opposed to taking stuff out. More often I find myself asking "why wouldn't she..." If I can convince myself that it isn't too far-fetched for a character to do something, then I let her do it. But when you write an amateur sleuth, she will invariably do things that most real people wouldn't stick her nose in where it doesn't belong.

Re: rubber containers...that's why I store them in a bottom drawer.

ROBERTA: Me too, Ro: I'm in the spare camp. I would never, ever, ever be in the position of having to edit from 743 pages to 300-something. I don't think I've hit the 300 page mark yet for a book! I think I must make assumptions about what's in my head and how well it's translated to the page.

And some day we should talk more about sticking noses where they don't belong. Every once in while it's enough to make me want to write a police procedural. Except (sigh), it sounds like so much work...

HALLIE: You know, what we're talking about is the intersection of plot and character. Your plot requires your Fiona to do X, but it only works if you've established a personality and history for Fiona that makes her doing X inevitable. And in a first draft, sometimes you write 443 pages of backstory that later needs to be cut. Not me...I'm like Roberta and I have to layer that stuff in later in order to make actions ring true.

If I store my plastic containers on the bottom of that closet, then I'll have to store the vacuum cleaner on the top shelf and then... it's too ugly to even contemplate.

HANK: Intersection of plot and character. I love that, Hallie. Because it also creates a moment of action. At an intersection, you have to make a decision. Turn? Go straight? I was reading a pal's manuscript, and at one point I asked : "Why does she do that?" And the answer came back: "She just does." That's a dead end.

But really, I do want to know what you do with your Tupperware-ish stuff. I found one of those plastic-containers-stacked-on-a-lazy-susan things. At the drug store? And it's terrific. (Next blog, pan lids.)

And PS--did you all see the cover of the new New Yorker? (My husband was laughing when he saw it (see above.) I said, all in denial, "It's a thesis she's writing, I think." He kept laughing)


  1. Ah, the plastic container problem. I keep all of ours, EACH WITH ITS LID ON, in a big drawer in the kitchen. When the drawer gets full, we have too many containers and it's off to the recycling bin with the flimsy ones. I wish my writing were so tidy...

    Great SINC/NE meeting yesterday at Hanscom. I took a walk in the housing area afterwards to stretch my legs before getting back in the car. Most units have names like "Capt. George and Jane Green" or "Sgt. Smith and Family" posted above the doors. One said "Go Red Sox" instead.

    Edith Maxwell

  2. I only have three Tupperware tubs, which probably says volumes about the way I manage my cooking/eating, but it also means I have no solutions to the lotsa-Tup dilemma.

    The sight picture of Hank's avalanche was great though. Very cinematic!

    Hoosh. Backstory and editing. I've read your comments here with interest. Some of them deserve to be bronzed.

    Great post.

  3. Be thankful it was Tupperware, Hank. I regularly get beaned by flashlights and spray paint cans tumbling off the shelf of our utility closet. (The door sticks, too, so I have to open it with a yank hard enough to dislodge a police-issue maglite.)

    That scenario is a great start for a "discovery" type of mystery. What will our heroine find at the back of that closet when she finally empties every last thing out of it in frustrated fury?

    Question, Hank: When you are cutting back all those words, do you find elements that would not have been in there if you hadn't over-written in the first place? Example: Maybe you didn't know why there was a Tupperware avalanche in chapter one until you got to chapter 20 and Charlotte realized how out-of-character it was for an otherwise neatnik to have a haphazard pots and pans cabinet.

  4. Yes, Mo, yes yes yes. And that's why I always just leave everything in for the (way too long) first draft. Because it never fails (cross fingers, knock wood) that something I put in someplace in the beginning, because it just seemed to happen, is incredibly relevant later. And is even a turning point.

    I can tell you, absolutely, that's happened in all three books, and already in the synopsis of the fourth. It's one of the most wonderful things. It's like--s gift that your mind gives yourself. The key is there--but you didn't realize it. Til, like some Rubik's cube, it all clicks into place.

    And, thanks Mo. I think I'll put a kitchen cabinet in Drive Time. Hmm. But in whose kitchen?