“Contaminant Source Removed” embraces the writer's aphorism "get your character in trouble quickly." The first draft of “Contaminant Source Removed” started when I wrote the first line that remains in the text: “It was the third spell that got Marco into trouble.”
With that promise of pending conflict, I bought myself a little breathing room to meet Marco and his world. As I got to know Marco, who I must admit, (unlike many of my characters,) reminds me a little bit of myself, it became clear to me his initial challenge was a going to be relatively mundane, personal one.
I have a mundane, personal challenge in my life: Keeping my space clean. Who likes to clean? Ok, bad rhetorical question, because there are folks out there who enjoy such activities. I am not one of them, and I'm pretty sure Marco isn't either. Given that, a magic spell that kept my space clean so I didn’t have to would be great. What could go wrong with that?
"What could go wrong with that magic" is an ingredient, aka trope, in many classic tales. (see, for example W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw".) “Contaminant Source Removed” is built around that ingredient: Marco casts a spell to clean his room, and finds out he’s what’s making it dirty. Wackiness ensues.
Some authors reject recycling classic ingredients, feeling they are tired clichés. I’m not one of those authors. I generally write fiction to be enjoyed, not pondered, and clichés, i.e. field-tested narrative devices, are useful structures around which to build new, hopefully humorous, quirks and insights with which to entertain the reader. In the type of fiction I'm trying to write, what matters is not where you are going, but how you get there.
Hopefully you agree.
DVD Bonus Tracks: Although the opening line remained through the (many) drafts of this story, many other were cut. Here’s a couple of my favorite bits that were cut during the critique and editing process for this tale:
· An early working title: Squeaky Clean. (Who doesn’t like a pun involving a hamster?)
· When Tommy and Marco are hanging out at the sleepover: Marco flicked the light on and off. Maybe he could send an SOS with the flashlight and get rescued by the coast guard. That had worked for Scooby-Doo once. (Who doesn’t like Scooby Doo references?)
· There was also an early-draft scene where Marco is at dinner with his folks, trying to cover up the fact he can’t go into his room. (This scene fully deserved to be cut, as it added nothing to the plot and wasn’t funny.)
By the way, I notice Edmund introduced this tale as “a fun YA fantasy.” While I don’t disagree with that characterization, I didn’t set out to write a YA tale when I sat down to write this one. As I see it, cleaning your room is a challenge for all ages.