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Friday, July 16, 2010

Goodson Froog

I've been living with Goodson Froog for over a decade now. He first came into my life, of all things, as a result of a pretty bad teacher and a trivia game. When I was in grad school, I had to take a summer class called "Teachers as Writers." Great, right? Well, the teacher was a drunk (seriously, bright red nose, slurred speech) and told us to spend each period outside writing. Some of us took it more seriously than others.

I started writing about Goodson then, though I don't even think that was his name at that point. It was a three or four page story, but the most basic elements of Goodson and Operation Becky Boom Boom were there. His two friends, Rudy and Bren, who have become so central, were completely static characters, there as plot tools rather than actual characters.

I liked the story, but more or less put it away and forgot about it.

Then, the following summer, I was at a friend's house, and a question came up about a Swedish skier. I made up some name because, really, Swedish skier? and the name became a running joke for the night. I don't even remember the name any more. I may have it somewhere in some file, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that I decided I would write about the Swedish skier. I had no idea how that would work. The name was so ridiculous, I knew the tone I wanted right away. It was light and funny, not really the type of stuff I usually wrote.

Anyway, I thought that the Swedish skier would be a main character's friend. I didn't have enough to really write about the skier (and besides, what do I know about that?). So I wrote about a kid, the child of rich parents with a rich imagination. I figured he would grow up and on a trip meet the Swedish skier.

But somewhere in that beginning, not really knowing where it was going, Goodson (I had named him that now) took on a life of his own. The kid was a little snot, he was mean and he was kind of a jerk, but man, he was funny and his friends made me laugh as I wrote. I realized that the story I was writing would skew right into the Operation Becky Boom-Boom story I had put away the previous year, and I guided Goodson there.

It worked well, but it wasn't perfect. I had two problems: first, I had put in a bunch of extra subplots in the story about his parents, butler, and maid, but I didn't have a real finish for it. The adults' stories were weaved into the sixty page story, but certainly could be removed without really hurting the main story. Trouble is, without that, the story would have been much shorter and had no real through line to carry me to the Swedish skier. The second problem was that the story wrapped up nicely -- I didn't feel the NEED to bring in the Swedish skier, but I knew there was more to the story than what I had.

I put it aside for a long while - about six years. Every so often my mind would go back to Goodson because I liked him and Bren and Rudy so much, but I just couldn't figure out how to extend the story. I had tried once, written another ten pages or so when the boys were a little older, but it came to nothing really.

Last year, my students were trying to figure out what their class play (I had the kids write and put on a play each year) would be. They couldn't come up with an idea, so I offered up the Goodson story as a base. I figured maybe there was a play in it. The kids tried to make it work - they added stuff from the parents, added some plot twists - but nothing really worked. The play ended up never really coming together.

So again, the story was dead in the water.

Then, a couple of months ago, it hit me. I was approaching the story all wrong. I've been reading a lot of YA lately, and realized that while the voice I was using for the story was great, it wasn't really YA. It was more "adult humorous." I realized to make it work, I needed to change the voice -- so I thought I'd try writing it in first person. I realized immediately that Goodson wasn't the right voice for the story though. The whole point of the story is that though he's really kind of an evil kid, he's very likable. My second book, the one I was just finishing as I came around to this idea, was about a girl who needs to take on an evil persona and fight against the power it has over her (a simplification, but enough to make my point). The girl in the novel was toned down somewhat because I focused on her and couldn't make her TRULY evil and sympathetic at the same time. If I had Goodson tell the story, it would be too easy to make him sympathetic which would dilute the whole point of the story. As a result, I decided to have the story be told from his friends' points of view: Rudy and Bren. These two characters, who had originally been little more than tools, had developed their own personalities and own characters, and I thought they'd be strong enough to carry the novel.

I'm now about 40 pages in, and it's working GREAT. Goodson is coming alive again, and Bren and Rudy, by becoming the narrator, have been fleshed out significantly also. I more or less knocked out the adult side story, and put a sort of framework in which Rudy and Bren were the childhood friends of Goodson, who has become the world's first fourteen year old super-villain. They are telling his origin story.

As much as I liked where it was going, I STILL felt as though something was missing. I had Bren and Rudy talking as though they were writing TO someone. I tried an agent who was tracking him - nothing going. I tried using Goodson's voice, like in a journal. No good. I tried a superhero who is after Goodson and BINGO. At the start of each chapter, the superhero (who remains anonymous) talks about how finding out about Goodson from those who knew him would help him in his never-ending fight against the super-villain. The hero has a humorous voice which fits in perfectly with Bren and Rudy, and the three of them almost play off each other's testimony.

The story has evolved a LOT from those first three or four pages. I'm curious to see where it ends, but I'm VERY pleased with where it's going.

I knew there was something to Goodson, I'm so glad I'm finally finding out what it is!

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