?

Log in

No account? Create an account

arhyalon

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
03:21 pm: Wright’S Writing Corner: New Writing Tip

  

Our heroine, Rachel Griffin (grown up)

Today, we have something fun…a new Writing Tip. Writing Tips get onto my list when something strikes me as a principle that I want to remember for future writing projects.

This one I learned the hard way through hours of painful, heartrending (imaginary) angst. But it is so effective that I cannot wait to use it in a story myself. (I do not think I can fit it in my next book. The emotional relationships are just getting started…but maybe in the sequel, as there is plenty of angst in the offing.)

 

Extend the Angst: When a character has emotional troubles that could be cleared up by talking to another person, have dramatic plot events intervene that keep them from reconciling. This way the emotional plotline is extended and the action sequence is tenser for the addition of the unresolved emotional issues.

The concept here is that you first put your character under emotional stress, and then have the flow of events make it so that some other kind of scene, such as an action sequence, intercedes before the first problem can be resolved. The more easily the first problem could be resolved, the more ironic and painful the delay.

Using this method, the angst is drawn out, and a second thread is added to the action scene as the character tries to react to the immediate situation while still dealing with painful emotions.

An example or two would probably help:

Imagine we had a young girl. We shall call her Rachel. Now imagine, Rachel has a friend who is an angelic creature. The creature is old and somewhat gruff, but Rachel won him over, and they are now very fond of each other. We shall call him the Guardian.

Okay so far so good.

 

Now, imagine that a misunderstand leads to hurt feelings, and Rachel’s dearest wish is to go speak to the Guardian and set things right. It is all she can think about.

Only, of course, that is when first she is called away and then he is called away. The misunderstanding—which could be resolved in one brief talk between them—goes unresolved. Rachel’s trip, which otherwise might have been the highlight of her life, is haunted by the conversation she wishes she could have to put things right.

Or, for another example…

Imagine our heroine Rachel has been kidnapped. Currently, she is tied to a table with her wings extended,* being questioned by some foreign goon. (In this case, Rachel is an English girl, so our foreign goon is American. ;-)
That is pretty bad. But Rachel is not worried about being poked and prodded for science. No. She is worried about the fact that she kissed a boy who is much older than her, just to be sweet—to thank him for something kind he did—and his reaction was to banish her from his presence and stop talking to her.

If things were normal, Rachel could confront the boy and try to figure out why he had reacted so severely…but she cannot do that while she is strapped naked to a table.

So the pain of having ruined the relationship with the older boy she was so fond of is extended, and the indignity of being kidnapped for science is made all the more horrible, due to the pain of not being able to resolve the main emotional problem troubling her.
(All this is made more painful by the fact that the boy followed her to rescue her, was captured, and is being held in another room…but Rachel does not know this.)

*Why does she have wings? Got them on the previous trip…the one where all she wanted to do was rush home and talk to the Guardian. Come on, I mean, that was obvious, right?

The principle here is very simple. We writers often do this instinctively. I suspect if I looked through the Prospero series, I would find places where I had done exactly this. And yet, there is a difference between doing something naturally and understanding what one is doing.

In the past, I had used a similar technique to keep the plot moving. Scene A is happening, but if I remind the reader that character 1 is worried about rescuing character 2, then it will keep a sense of ongoing plot in the mind of the reader.

Only now, however, have I realized how useful this technique is for increasing angst itself, for ratcheting up the emotional pain, the irony and heartbreak.
As a reader, I love heartbreak. 

So there you are. My first new Writing Tip in a while.

And maybe one day, we will even find out why Victor stopped talking to Rachel.


 

 

 



Comments

[User Picture]
From:justjohn
Date:April 13th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I think this boils down to: Make your world hate your characters.

Maybe this is why I've never been any good at writing fiction.
[User Picture]
From:kokorognosis
Date:April 13th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
But that way lies the path of Whedon and madness!
[User Picture]
From:justjohn
Date:April 13th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)

I'm guessing ...

(Link)
Joss can afford his psychiatric bills just fine.


And when you put it that way, suddenly I feel re-inspired. Now who can I imagine, and drop into entirely the wrong place?
[User Picture]
From:kokorognosis
Date:April 13th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)

Re: I'm guessing ...

(Link)
I'm not worried about Joss, I'm worried about me ;)

I probably wouldn't go so far as to say "make the world hate your characters" -- at least, not for everything-- but your characters definitely shouldn't be happy with their world. Story happens when a character looks at the world, sees how it is, and wants to make it another way.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 13th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC)

Re: I'm guessing ...

(Link)
I am amused by "make your world hate your character" but I would not go that far.

I think it is more a matter of irony. Make things ironic. There can be great good, but it comes at some ironic moment.

Frankly, I think the Rachel Griffin story is occasionally too ironic for me. I'd settle for a bit less angst...but it is a great writing tool.
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:April 14th, 2011 01:14 am (UTC)
(Link)
Likewise. I am a problem-solver by nature and not a problem-creator. Works okay in short stories. Throw them in a heap of trouble and then make them work their way out of it reasonably efficiently.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 13th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's what makes one talk out loud while their reading, as if the characters can hear you. "Oh you should have told him before you left.", "You can't leave he's on his way.","She thinks you did it to hurt her, not to save her son."

Good point to remember when building tension.

Mary G.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 13th, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Exactly.

Which is, I think, what is going on in the scene with Rachel and Victor...I think Rachel completely misintepreted Victor's response.

Edited at 2011-04-13 09:34 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:princejvstin
Date:April 13th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Thanks.

I do find these interesting and useful.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 14th, 2011 01:00 am (UTC)
(Link)
I noticed a similar (but unfortunately repetitive) way of extending the plot threads in one author's books. The pattern was there: Character A has Aim B. She goes to achieve Aim B only to find that she needs to talk to Character C in order to do that. But it turns out that Character C either needs her to help with Issue D first, or in order to talk to Character C, Character A must do Task E, except that when she goes to do Task E, she learns that she needs MacGuffin F, and in order to get MacGuffin F she must bargain with Character G. But if she wants Character G's help, she must help him with Subquest H. When she goes to complete Subquest H, she finds Obstacle I ... and so on. After awhile it just plain got dull. I think part of it was that the books became formulaic and convoluted, adding cameos from Previous Characters and twisted plots like the above instead of having something engaging and original.

But I like this. You're right about it coming naturally; I find myself doing it to a certain extent in my WIP. This is definitely going on the list of "Things I want to keep in mind when I get to editing!" Angst is awesome.
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:April 14th, 2011 01:07 am (UTC)
(Link)
That's a common trick with children's picture books or folk tales. Not sure it works well on extreme extension. Fine (and sometimes funny) for those other formats.
[User Picture]
From:eleika
Date:April 14th, 2011 02:01 am (UTC)
(Link)
Ooops. I double-posted. But yeah, with this particular series it left me a bit frustrated sometimes. To the point where I just don't read it anymore.

Everything is good in moderation. This was too much.
[User Picture]
From:eleika
Date:April 14th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
I noticed a similar (but unfortunately repetitive) way of extending the plot threads in one author's books. The pattern was there: Character A has Aim B. She goes to achieve Aim B only to find that she needs to talk to Character C in order to do that. But it turns out that Character C either needs her to help with Issue D first, or in order to talk to Character C, Character A must do Task E, except that when she goes to do Task E, she learns that she needs MacGuffin F, and in order to get MacGuffin F she must bargain with Character G. But if she wants Character G's help, she must help him with Subquest H. When she goes to complete Subquest H, she finds Obstacle I ... and so on. After awhile it just plain got dull. I think part of it was that the books became formulaic and convoluted, adding cameos from Previous Characters and twisted plots like the above instead of having something engaging and original.

But I like this. You're right about it coming naturally; I find myself doing it to a certain extent in my WIP. This is definitely going on the list of "Things I want to keep in mind when I get to editing!" Angst is awesome
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 14th, 2011 03:45 am (UTC)
(Link)
It is. I think it is a great emotion in stories! And you don't have to turn this into an ongoing chain like what you described, you can always get a double wham out of the climax of a scene if, say, the character gets rescued and gets to talk to the boy at the same time. (Which is what I am hoping for. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:eleika
Date:April 14th, 2011 05:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Agreed. So out of curiosity, does this mean you're planning more than one book of what you submitted to the beta group?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 14th, 2011 06:17 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I figure it will take 12 to 20 books to finish the series, though I can wrap the initial plot lines up in four if I have to. (I would think this was crazy...but that's what Butcher has planned...20 books. ;-)

Yeah. The one I'm working on now is only the very, very beginning of a very long and intricate story.



[User Picture]
From:cdenmier
Date:April 14th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This technique is one of the thing about books and movies that really drives me nuts...maybe because it is so effective at causing the viewer/reader to FEEL the angst. The old "misunderstanding-leading-to-major-problems-that-could-have-been-resolved-by-a-simple-phone-call" is indeed human (how often does miscommunication cause us headaches?) but perhaps too human for me tastes. I tend to grumble and moan about the obvious solution to the problem and by the end, when all is resolved, I'm too tired and jaded to even care that everything was made right.

Whenever I see this technique applied it makes me say out loud, "oh come on!"

I'm usually a big fan of your writing tips, but I must cross swords with you on this one!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 14th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Ah...I think that we are not as at odds here as you might think.

I am not at all encouraging the misunderstanding plot. I agree that they can just drive a person crazy.

When I said that a conversation could solve it, I meant that often when feelings are hurt a conversation can put it right...it might not be an easy conversation, but if you have time to discuss the matter, to argue it out, you can often move on. It is the delaying of this time that I was recommending.

I have never been a fan of the kind of scene where pure misunderstanding creates a comedy of errors.

I also should make it entirely clear that I do NOT recommend delaying it indefinitely. I think that becomes too frustrating...or takes all the tension away.

(When the Guardian went on a trip and just never seemed to come back, Rachel just stopped thinking about the problem...losing all the tension that had previously been built up, for instance.)

In the particular example of Rachel and Victor, she may be misunderstanding why he is refusing to talk to her...but if it is not the reason she thinks, it may be a reason that--while it would upset her less--would be even harder to solve.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 14th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Your post made me think of John Bellair's youth novels...many of which seemed to have some point early on in which the main character knew he was getting into serious trouble but decided against telling an adult who could help. This tension would go all the way to the climactic scenes before said adult figured it out and came to help. Drove me nuts!

Short usage of this technique--over just one part of the story arc--still makes me tap my fingers, but it's certainly more bearable, as you say.

I suppose that it is a valid point to show how failing to "do the right thing" causes a situation to bloom up into bigger trouble. Stitch in time and all that.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 14th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
> suppose that it is a valid point to show how failing to "do the right thing"

In each of the examples that led me to conclude that this idea was a good writing techinque, no one failed to do the right thing. Rather, they conceived of the right thing and did not have a chance to do it.

Imagine you realize you've hurt someone's feelings, you turn around, you walk toward them, and on the way, you are shot with lighting and carried off by evil Americans. At no point have you failed to do the right thing...but you haven't had an oportunity to do it either.
[User Picture]
From:cdenmier
Date:April 14th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Just left a comment as anonymous. Sorry. Terribly bad at remembering to sign it, it seems.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:April 14th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I just unscreened it.

I should say that in each of the several times that Rachel has run into this problem it has NEVER been something she could have fixed previously. It's always a completely legitimate problem where she just did not have a chance to fix it.

I personally would find tension set up because I person didn't do something they could have to be rather annoying.

What I am talking about is much more like: Rachel breaks up with her boyfriend for a legitimate reason. Later events change her mind and partially solve her problems, so now she wants her boyfriend back. Only now he's upset and won't come speak to her. She is convinced that if they talked, they could work out their problems...but instead she is attacked by a demon and has to deal with that.

Gaius(the boyfriend)'s decision not to come speak to her is not false tension. He's heartbroken and his pride had been hurt, and he's just not up to facing her again yet. Maybe he's not sure he wants her back at this point.

But the fact that the attack came now, rather than the next day, after the couple had patched up their differences, makes the sequence of the demon attack all the more poignant, as Rachel has to both face physical troubles and the terrible pain of missing her boyfriend.

Does that make more sense? I really hate false tension. I much rather seen a kid ask the parents and the parents have to face the problem, too...or get captured or something.

From:tesudust
Date:April 15th, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
(Link)
Did you heard what Rob Matts said about that?

Powered by LiveJournal.com