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.