Peru, Indiana is the county seat where I live. It’s also the Circus Capital of the World. It’s the home of the biggest amateur circus anywhere, has had a TV special made about it and books written about it, hits USA Today occasionally, and has an ever-evolving band I could listen to all day long. There is an annual circus parade—one of the largest seasonal parades in the state—and sometimes it seems as though every kid that’s not on a baseball diamond or a soccer field is in one of the circus building’s three rings. When I wrote for the newspaper, my favorite assignments were always interviewing performers. If you want to find out more, go here http://www.peruamateurcircus.com/ and if you want a nice place to spend a few days next
summer, go ahead and make plans—we don’t have a lot of motels around here, and they fill up fast.
|Photo by Dianne Stoner Gustin|
Commercial over, and circus week is over for the summer, too, but those three rings make me think of not only raising kids—yes, it was a circus, the most fun and exhausting one in the world—but of writing books. Specifically romance novels.
The Center Ring, obviously enough, belongs to the protagonists. It is the story of how they
meet, overcome conflict, and live Happily Ever After. But then there are
the rings to each side, too. The ones with—you know what they are—subplots!
Where you get to have secondary characters with stories and pains and glories
of their own. The rings aren’t as big, but they either bump up against or
intersect with the edges of the center ring to where things are moving all the
time and the performers are dependent on each other—and on you, their audience—to
make it a good show.
The Center Ring garners the most attention, it’s true, but the acts in the side rings require as much work, as much thought, and as much heart as the ones in the middle. You get to add some idiosyncrasies to those performers that might not fly with the hero and heroine, which can sometimes make them more fun to write but they must not be more fun to read! This is a rule I’ve heard my entire writing life. It’s one I still don’t like and, as a reader, don’t entirely believe, but I admit I’m probably wrong about it. So, as I undoubtedly said to those kids I was talking about raising, Do As I Say And Not As I Do.
There are gaspers in the circus, things like human cannonballs and doubles from the trapeze, just as there are black moments and aha moments in books. They are the connecters that keep you going from act to act or chapter to chapter.
There are the clowns. In the amateur circus, there are tons of them. Peru, after all, is where Emmett Kelly, his sons Emmett, Jr. and Pat, and his grandson Joey—clowns all—are from. If you’re scared of clowns, you didn’t learn it here, because Peru Circus's jesters are fun and funny and heart-melting. The late Doc Sprock’s day job was as a physician—he delivered a good many of the audience! The Kiddie Clowns are so cute you spend a lot of awww time when they’re in the rings. They choose their own faces and names and they work hard at their craft.
Back we go to secondary characters. While their primary job may be bringing attention to the
Stars of the Show you’re writing, their faces and names need to be distinctive.
Avoid stereotypes. Let me say that again for the 400th time this week, avoid stereotypes.
At the end of the show, and the book, it all comes together. It’s the big payoff. You leave the arena, or close the book, with both pleasure and regret. Oops, that’s important, too. Circus performances are long—there are 200 performers in the Peru one—and books are often long, too. Sometimes because that’s how long it takes to tell the story and sometimes because publishers have length requirements. So it’s up to the ringmaster and the writer to make sure there is more regret than relief that it’s over. Because the circus performers want their audience to come back next year and the writer wants her readers to look forward to the next book.
Have a great week. May all your days be circus days!