©2010 by Jack Remick and Robert J Ray

Bob sez: At writing practice—we write two days a week at Louisa’s Bakery on Eastlake in Seattle—Jack was having trouble working flashbacks into his story. So he wrote scene-summaries for his WIP (an acronym for work-in-progress). He tied them together with polar opposites– thick and thin:

An old woman is thick with experience and objects.

A young woman is thin: she has the body of a boy. No hips, no breasts. She comes to work for the old woman with only the clothes on her back. Her experience is thin.

Working the Spine-finder, Jack saw his flashbacks dissolve when he laid his story out in chronological order. Problem solved–no need for the flashbacks. Here is a sliver of the story:

  1. In a scene called First Encounter, Gabriela moves to the Valley. She rides a bus down (thin). First instance on this plot track—the bus which has a long arc to the end of the story just before the Shop Woman Scene. She meets La Viuda. Gabriela has learned English, La Viuda speaks Spanish. They bond as Gabriela learns that she is the 12th woman Liah has hired and they have all failed. Gabriela learns the rules she has to live with.
  2. In a scene called The Boxes,(thick) Gabriela is introduced to the main reason she’s needed—La Viuda’s memory is failing (thin)and she’s recreating her life using the List of Places. (thick) On the List there are to be Dates, Places, Objects, Letters to and From. There are six Boxes that contain all the mementos of La Viuda’s life. (thick) The Boxes are made of exotic woods and inlaid with the bones of condors, birds, frogs and fish to form patterns. The eyes of the mythic animals are jeweled. First Instance on the mythic beings Plot Track. The two Big Chests–one that stands beside La Viuda’s bed, the other stands in an office—are elaborate masterpieces. (thick) Each of them has a secret panel (thick) that opens when the eye of the Butterfly wing is pressed. The Plot Track is the inner world.
  3. The List. Gabriela works the List but soon sees that La Viuda’s memory failures (thin) create huge amounts of work (thick) as she has to redo the List. So Gabriela learns to use note cards for each day’s work that she then transcribes to the List once a week (thick). First Instance on rewriting history plot track. Gabriela wears Levis and blue chambray shirts. Plot Track is her physical immaturity—the androgynous body. (thin)

Bob sez: I tried the Spine-finder on my current WIP, a multi-layered thriller with a big cast of characters and three meaty subplots. Jack gave me the spine’s polar opposites – rich/poor. I ran Spine-finder on the plot. Lover A is poor. Lover B is rich. She needs money. He has money. It’s a Cinderella story, but they have to purchase a happy ending from…. (secret)

Spine-finder worked so well, I tried it on a subplot.

In the example below, you can see Spine-finder at work on the Charles Brothers Subplot in Bob’s multi-layered thriller. There are three nasty brothers: Winnie, Freddy and Gordie. They were born rich; they have good taste in clothes and women. These brothers spend more than they make. They are toiling away as petty thieves – stealing for cash – when they sniff the rich aroma of Lover B’s wealth – diamonds and gold in a Swiss Bank vault.

In the example, you can see Spine-finder churning away on the first four scenes, plus a slice of Scene 5, with ideas for rewriting.

Bob sez: The Spine-finder locks your plot to polar opposites: rich/poor; evil/innocence; raw/cooked, etc. While it tightens the plot, Spine-finder re-orders your scenes. If you have flashbacks, the Spine-finder will keep them from proliferating. Locking down the spine of your story is hard sweaty work – that coughs up story-insights. Dive in. Be grateful. The example below uses Spine-finder to work a piece of subplot from Bob’s novel-in-progress, a multi-layered thriller.

Hooking the Rich/Poor Spine into the Charles Brothers Subplot

Character Notes:  The Charles Brothers – Winnie, Gordie, and Freddie are poor little rich boys who live beyond their means which motivates them to illegal activities

  • Gordie pushes dope
  • Freddy sells himself to Bogota
  • Winnie blackmails married women, including his mother

1. Wireless Café – Cell Phone Photo of Drug Deal

Staging: Gordie Charles, a college boy, pisses Angie off by dealing drugs to Phoebe Genero, a soldier in the Order. Gordie splits when SWAT cops arrive. Objects: pink cell phone, Phoebe’s pricey raincoat, boots. Spine: Angie is poor, Gordie is a rich boy punk.

2. Wireless Café – Halloween

Gordie is detoured by Phoebe’s pink cell phone, giving Angie time to dump ice water on him. Officers Malloy and Martinez, the M&Ms, load Gordie into the unmarked black van. Also grabbed is Zorro, aka Agent Forrest, of the DOD. These two enemy males will buddy-up in the Hospital with no Name. Objects: pitcher, second pink cell phone? cat cage, art on the wall. Spine: Angie’s art if for sale, cheap. Dr. Dance, with five billion in a Swiss Bank, lurks in the background of this scene.

3. San Rodrigo Grand Hotel – Phone Call to Freddy

On his way to meet Inspector Chacon, Freddy Charles receives a cell phone message that his brother Gordie has been arrested. New to the DEA, Freddy asks his brother, Winnie Charles (a DOJ lawyer attached to the DEA in Yakima), to check Seattle for recent arrests. Object: cell phone. Spine: the Order has grabbed Gordie on orders from Charlotte, who was born poor.

4. Hotel Bar – San Rodrigo

Freddy’s out of money. No inheritance until his parents die, so he makes a deal with Inspector Chacon to keep an eye on Hector, Dr. Dance’s partner in the money laundering operation. Freddy, a hopeless macho rich boy romantic, sees himself as the archetypal double-agent: playing both sides – the DEA vs. the Drug Lords of Colombia. Using his DEA job as cover, Freddy wants to be the Drug Lord of Texas. Dialogue-heavy.

5. Phone Call: Freddy to older Brother Winnie (named after his dad, Winston Churchill Charles, a wall street lawyer)

A short scene here, as Freddy’s older brother enters the story via the telephone. Winnie Charles can’t find an arrest record for their little brother Gordie. Winnie brags about the five grand he wangled out of their mother, Zenobia Remington Charles. She has oodles, Winnie says. You’re slime, Freddy says. (Staging: We don’t see Winnie until Act Three, when he barges into Room 400 of the Baskin Lake Motel, to view, the irony of satisfaction, the chalk outline of his dead brother. We will meet the parents in Act 2.1)

When the Spine-finder hits scene 4 in the Hotel Bar, there is an opening for the entrance of Freddy’s brother, Winnie Charles, in a phone call. Winnie Charles hates his last name.  If he changes his name, they’ll snatch away his trust fund.

The rewrite of this scene starts by locating Winnie Charles in Yakima, Washington.