In Stephen King’s Misery, his protagonist Paul said the I gotta motivated him to keep writing despite the tortures inflicted by the villain Annie. By tortures, I mean the loss of body parts, starvation, and other horrors. But he had to keep going because of the I gotta bug.
At the time, I thought I gotta was a cool expression. I gave it no more thought until I came down with the bug.
These past weeks, I’ve been revising “One Last Favor,” a tale earmarked for my anthology, City of Brotherly Death. A small press magazine published “One Last Favor” years ago. The story opens with a horde of revenants, people returning from the dead to harm the living, invading Hartland Clinic. My protagonist Tara survives by trading sex for her life. As the story advances, the dead continue their invasion, destroying entire cities. A registered nurse, Tara continues treating the sick until the monsters who bargained with her years before return for another visit. In the original version, Tara (different name in first version) joins the dead because she hates being alone.
When I evaluated the story for revisions, I thought, how trite. Most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up humanity to join a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. Tara enjoys patient care, respect, a decent income, and a comfortable apartment. Why would she give those things up?
I kept the first half of the story, revised the second, and ditched the original ending. It never occurred to me, until I was deep into my work, that I should have outlined my revision. So I got stuck. I sat before a blank screen trying to come up with a brilliant ending. If not that (you can’t win the jackpot every time), an ending that would satisfy the reader.
The thought crossed my mind to scrap the tale and move on to something else. I couldn’t do that, not with all those zombies threatening my protagonist’s life. One of my friends suggested I put the story on the back burner and go with other activities. I tried doing that, but after a couple of hours, that story called to me, demanding that I finish it. If I told you that only the prospect of sales and a contract motivated me, I’d be lying. Diggity-damn, those zombies found a way into Tara’s house, and what was she going to do about it?
My balloons need helium. Forget that. I gotta find out if Tara will live. Will the cavalry arrive in time to save her? Two editing projects are sitting in my queue. They’ll have to wait. I gotta see where Tara will finish up if she survives. I gotta know who will mourn her if she dies. I gotta find out if she manages to destroy the zombies.
Like a pearl necklace that motivates me to save until I have enough money to buy it, the I Gotta holds the promise of a brilliant ending. Chores be damned, I’ll keep going until I find that ending.
It took three tries to get a workable ending. Raising the stakes in the middle opened things up a bit, especially when Tara finds love. However, the ending is subject to change. The tale has gone to the editor. Toni of The Unbridled Editor has edited most of my tales for City of Brotherly Love. I highly recommend her.
While I wait for the edits, I shall fill my balloons and work on the other Night to Dawn projects. Because when the edits come back, I suspect there will be another go-round with the I gotta bug.
Has any of you been bitten by the I gotta bug? How did it affect your writing? Were you satisfied with the results?
I agree that not being alone can be a great motive. In the first version, Tara goes it alone, but she sticks to the high moral ground, and someone like that would not stoop to joining flesh eating zombies. Tara is a “people” person, so this time out, she’s not going it alone. However, just because she wants to survive doesn’t mean she gets her wish. Thanks for your good thoughts.
I have been there a few times. I set out to write the ending to a short story or a novel that I always had in mind for it only to hit a road block. The ending would have been great if I had not made discoveries about my characters on the way. Eventually I go for another ending based on what I have discovered about my characters and it works. At least it satisfies me and that has to be a good start. The Gotta sounds a lot like the cliffhanger to me where writer, reader and character(s) need to know something, go somewhere or do something. A lot of successful writers leave the reader hanging out at the conclusion of a chapter wondering how the character(s) can possibly get out of this one whatever this one happens to be. I tend to feel that not being alone can be a great motive for a character to be with someone they would not ordinarily be with but it needs a lot of build up. Of course there are always characters that do quite well on their own and don’t need to be with anyone at all. In the end it is what feels right to you and the character(s).
Great blog, Barbara. I thoroughly enjoyed your “I gotta” post! Other writers will totally identify with the feeling.
Catherine, thanks so much for your comment. I greatly appreciate your support on Facebook too. Hope to see you at the next PWC conference.