Emotional baggage?

I have just spent two days here on my personal polish-the-novel retreat in Fuerteventura dealing with baggage. No, I am not talking about emotional baggage: the desire to make me-type characters noble or the psychological blocks that inhibit my sex scenes ( not me, mum!). No, I am talking bags, vanity cases, hold-alls, luggage.

Miss Widow and Kim, my heroic female protagonists, are on the run in Jamaica and are forced to abandon their suitcases at a hotel as they flee for their lives. Therefore they have no cosmetics, clothes, swimwear or for that matter passports and money. This is far more problematic for a heroine than for a hero like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher who would just sweat up his T-shirt for several chapters, sniff his manly armpit, then throw away the offending garment and buy another in Wal-mart. No passport or money to check into a hotel? Jack would just pick up a broad in a bar and spend the night at her place, or bivouac down in a makeshift tent Special Forces style (what is ‘bivouac’ by the way?)

My heroines can’t do that as they are hygiene and fashion conscious plus they are in quite enough trouble already without throwing themselves on the mercy of strange men in bars, whose wives probably take a dim view of overnight guests anyway. So I contrive ways for them to retrieve their luggage and documents; I ponder the trusty old bell hop using a pass key and the back stairs to spirit away their bags with the help of the handsome taxi-driver, but would these poor guys risk losing their jobs and possibly gaining a larceny charge for two women they hardly know? Two women whom they believe are on the plane back to London?

I toy with fortuitously timed phone calls to the hotel, or maybe a quick return trip in the small hours to check out officially but, much as these gals love their Manolos, there is a madman with a Glock 17 laying in wait for them.

I work out lots of convoluted schemes with long-winded, unconvincing dialogue designed to make these ruses work then it hits me – they don’t get their luggage. Period. I can indeed opt for the Jack Reacher solution, but make some capital and comedy out of this stylish pair spending a week in sarongs, Bob Marley T-shirts and flip-flops. Simple.

I move on; now I need to deal with the last week of their three-week holiday. The action’s over so do I give my readers a daiquiri by daiquiri account of their relaxing last days? Just a summary? Both options dilute the tension and, with all this free time, wouldn’t Kim shag the taxi-driver? She’s been wanting to for 243 pages but I need her to save it for the sequel so…? I could drag out the action over three weeks but that would slow the pace.

Then the simple solution comes to me in a blinding revelation – well at the bottom of a glass of rioja ­ – make them go on a two-week holiday in the first place. Simplicity itself. So if you are tying yourself up in plot knots, think laterally, logically and opt for the simple solution.

Ardella Jones

Our Novelists’ Survival Group meets first Monday in each month 7 – 9.30 pm with Ardella Jones and guest tutors and is open to writers with 40,000 words and/or detailed treatment. Submit your 2 page synopsis and 1,000 extract to creativewriting@chalkthesun.co.uk