Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writerly ... stuff. Pt 2

I've encountered an interesting problem with the thing I'm writing now. Even though I am convinced it is doomed to fail, I am writing "Webber"'s sequel. Because I want to, and because I really want to get to read this whole story in one sitting and this is the only way to get it out.

Anyway, one of the things I worked out with Webber is that event timing is important. Not just when an event happens in a plot, but when they happen in a chapter, and how letting a certain phase (say, the start or finish of an action scene) fall at the end of a chapter adds weight and energy to the reader experiance. This was easy...ish to screw with reguarding Webber, because I had an A plot and a B plot, and I could alternate the scenes so that when the A plot is in a necessary lull, the B plot is peaking, and vice-versa (and also about six other things I'm hoping I did with that set up)

I decided to keep that format for the second book, as there's a lot of stuff the main character is not in a position to discover and I don't want to wait until book three to expose these elements of the story, and the B plot pretty much fell into my hand over the last couple of days. Not a blinding flash of inspiration, but more like assembling a jigsaw puzzle and discovering that all the right pieces are sitting next to each other.

What I've hit is a funny thing, which will probably make no sense to anybody but me, but I've never had this problem before. I've got a scene that needs to happen that's one of those perfect "end the chapter on this note and completely blow the reader's mind" kind of scenes. The problem is that I don't want to blow the reader's mind just yet. There isn't enough weight for one of those OH NO YOU F***KING DIDN'T kind of reactions. Which I love. If you ever read something I have written and hit a particularly nasty cliffhanger you have my full permission to contact me via blog or whatever and say "Fuck you" in reaction. In fact, this would be exceedingly satisfying because it would mean I had done my job, and done it fairly well. But as much as I like doing this to people, I don't want to do it here.

(WRITING THEORY ACCORDING TO CW WARNING this is unproven non-science read with grain of salt). One of the things about the human brain is, when you notice how you feel, you're actually experiencing a moment of release. This breaks whatever tension you felt before and requires whomever is building the tension to start over. Some of it stays, and there are ways to simultaneously build more tension and effect a release (which is why punching a pillow never works. Aggression tends to echo) but a lot of it is still released. One of the few things that doesn't work this way is humor. Like aggression, the more you laugh the more you want to. But if you're scared and are made to either jump or laugh (or both) the tension is broken and there's a kind of nervious release of it. Most writing, most good writing anyway, aims to effect both a building of tension and a release, and to time each subsequent build-and-release in such a way that they also build upon each other. If you can nail the timing, and combine it with subtle, yet effective emotional manipulation (look. When I'm writing and you're reading it, if you feel a certain way about a scene and that is how I wanted you to feel when I wrote it, then I am purposefully manipulating your emotions. I'm not going to put a polite hat on it.) then you can pull off a pretty fun ride.

With Webber, originally I had two sequencial scenes for the ending which I shall not spoil for anyone. On a second draft I decided that a third scene needed to be inserted because it was kind of anticlimatic and because there was a plot thread I had forgotten to resolve. On the third draft (there are currently seven, and if I can find a way to tweak it further there will probably be eight. I like editing more than I do actually writing. There's less emphasis on getting things down and I can play a bit more at what I'm doing.) I revised the second-to-last scene to have more tension, and went a bit too far. It was so intense and the release was so huge, the book was emphatically done after that. I could get the energy level back up for the final scene, but it took a lot of work and my emotional reaction upon reading this was a kind of car-bottom-dragging sensation, as if I had gone through a ditch and scraped the bottom of my mind on the edge getting back out. But I still needed the scenes at the end of it. Fixing this was a challenge, but I think I did it.

I'm having a kind of opposite problem here. I need to give the characters a very good reason for doing something, but I don't have enough energy invested in the B-plot to do what I originally wanted to (it's the emotional equivilant of switching between your house power and a car battery). I think I know what to do with it, and if I don't right now I can probably get it in the eighth (or ninth. Or tenth) edit later (I. Like. Editing. I'm sorry.) It's just an interesting dilemma I've never hit before. 

So yeah. Thank God I have tonight off.

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