Monday, January 31, 2011

Plot, pacing and the purpose of a story

Generally, when I begin a story, I have a concept and a situation in mind. I do my damndest to create a plot outline with major events--in other words, stuff happens. But then I get into exploring the characters and this might cause different stuff to happen than I originally intended, or more stuff happens in between the major plot points than I originally intended. This, by the way, is why I cannot write a short story to save my life.

When other stuff or more stuff happens, I worry about pacing. I'm pretty good at determining/approximating pacing in an outline, but in scenes I'm kind of blind to it (at least when I read my own). I know that every scene should serve more than one purpose, but sometimes the purpose isn't clear to me until after I've written it--or else, again, it changes. Incidentally, if it's still not clear to me then, I often end up ditching the scene.

Take the scene I'm writing now. I realized two characters who will eventually be involved in a romantic relationship needed some time to interact on-screen, as it were. I know this isn't a good enough reason to write a scene, but one character needs to explain something to another anyway. Yeah, uh oh, the dreaded Info Dump Scene. This is what has me nervous. I enjoy organic worldbuilding and hate when the writer makes me pause while s/he explains a bunch of stuff to me, but in this case, these are things the reader needs to know and the protagonist needs to know before too long. I figured I would just write the damn scene already and figure out if it was necessary or prudent after I had the first draft complete. That's just how I roll sometimes.

The scene turned into an interesting discussion about what makes a human/a person. Is being human and being a person the same thing? That's one of the sub-thematic questions in the entire series I have planned, so it worked rather well. So I'm not too worried about it now.

I was talking to Tiger Gray the other day about the central conflict/central choice in a story. He had finally figured out his and I was a little confused about mine. You see, this was supposed to be one book, but as is typical of me, it turned into a series. So I know the overall conflict, but this story arc needed one, too. I came about it in a really roundabout way writing it, so I suppose it was only appropriate that I figured out the central issue in a roundabout way, too.

See, I read "Barn Burning" by Faulkner and had to analyze it for my students. It's a coming-of-age story about a son's conflict with his father's choices, and the son's need to make his own choices.


Reading that story could not have been more unintentionally well-timed. That's pretty much exactly what On a Twisted Tree is about: the Delaney brothers learning to make their own choices and become their own people, despite (and because of) the consequences. Their choice is to whether to obey the people who swear they have their best interest in mind or take a risk and strike out on their own. It's been there all along--it just took me reading someone else's story to realize it.

Yeah. That's how I roll. Nothing is ever really straightforward.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My characters drive me to drink

Uurrgghhh, you guys. I'm currently writing a universe-crossover with Tiger Gray and exploring new dimensions of a truly vile character, Cary and Lindsay's father, Lewis. I don't mind telling you all that he's heavily modeled after my own dead-beat dad and is a blatant attempt to exorcise those demons through my writing. Add onto that a heaping scoop of the religious insanity I grew up around, and...yeah.

The problem is, I have to write him. This guy is emotionally abusive/neglectful, cowardly, psychotic and the captain of the cruise ship that cruises De Nile. The current scene involves my wading tits-deep in De Nile, which is filled with with Psychosis Crocodiles and a heavy dose of cruelty. Even for a short scene I have to psych myself up for him. In a scene like this, I must drink. And then possibly bathe in bleach.

Now, I have and will torture my beloved characters. I also write some pretty psychotic characters. Some of them are downright scary because they come out of my brain. Very few of them have affected me like him. Maybe it's the personal connection that bothers me so much, but this bastard makes my skin crawl. I guess, though, that that's a good thing. I find that the more I elicit emotions in myself while writing, the more effectively I elicit them in my reader.


I will now go back to my raspberry bitch beer.