Monday, 23 July 2007

Rise and Fall

Sunset Bickham goes to some lengths to describe what is meant by scenes and sequels, equating the scene to the peak, and the sequel to the valley.
I'll try to paraphrase whilst retaining the essence:

Scenes are built from clear goal, conflict, bad development (disaster). In this way, protag has a goal (the clarity of which is of utmost importance); goal creates scene question (will protag accomplish x?); protag is in opposition with antag; reader is rewarded with a development, but a development that is incomplete enough or twisted enough to create or sustain anticipation.
Scenes are not summarized: scenes are filled with blow-by-blow, in-the-thick-of-it narrative, drawing out the conflict (and the agony).
Scenes are fast-paced. (Peaks!)

Scenes are followed by sequels.
Sequels are slow and, as such, probably need to be summarized. (Valleys.)
Sequels provide the protag's response to the scene, and are structured: emotion, thought, decision.
Yes, there we see the protag's decision, or choice, once again!

I spent my weekendly writing session refining my opening two chapters.
I tend to leave sticky passages when I encounter them, skipping them in order to keep my juices flowing. Which means that I need sessions like my most recent one in order to tackle those horrible, niggly passages that aren't working.
It was Penpa's reaction to the inciting incident that has been bugging me: And on this morning of sly wind serpents and crackling storm anvils, the light did not appear.

I've already clearly set this up on at least three occasions, so that the reader is in no doubt how bad this catastrophe is. The world will freeze and everyone will die. Most importantly, I've shown this as well as told (or retold) this. I've also quantified the countdown so that this is not some nebulous disaster: No more than two sunfalls.
(Sidenote: I've analyzed the scene in Mission Impossible in which Ethan and his gang attempt to retrieve the NOC list, running it through my anti-peril list, with fascinating results. I'll hitch this up later, but note how the dangers are shown: in particular, the condensation on the glass that drips upon the floor, demonstrating the sensitivity of the pressure pads, and foreshadowing the sweat building on Ethan's glasses. The condensation serves the same purpose at the Star Trek redshirts.)

Penpa's worst nightmare has been realized. So how best to address this valley? How long to spend on her response, and how to create this response?
My original solution wasn't good: it was a jumbled mixture of faux despair and anger, both largely told, and both swaddled in poetry. Yuk! I say. (I understand that it's not uncommon for the new writer to hide from emotions, burying the prose in poeticisms. You and I know that we must embrace and explore these emotions.)
Breaking her response into emotion, thought, and decision gives a useful set of bite-sized chunks that I could tackle individually. This relies on my understanding of her character.
1) EMOTION: Penpa does not stop turning the wheel that fires the machinery. She turns quickly and she turns slowly, and she turns frantically, never admitting defeat, never acknowledging that her nightmare has come true. The reader is shown her fear and her brave resolve. Even when she is exhausted, she falls to her knees and continues cranking the wheel; even when despair sets in and she succumbs to floods of tears, she continues to crank the wheel. And only when she has no strength left and Blinky nuzzles into her does she relent and drop her head into her lap.
2) THOUGHT: Children rarely accept blame. Whenever someone has been naughty at school, it's always someone else's fault. If my son were to, say, stub his toe, it would be my fault for, perhaps, being late with lunch or giving him the wrong coloured socks to wear. Such are Penpa's thoughts: she is angry and needs to blame someone; someone must take the responsibility for the broken lighthouse. Her self-pity would always quickly give way to anger and blame (until, of course, the end of the novel when her character has changed).
3) DECISION: Penpa summons her imaginary friend and accuses her of sabotage, providing me with a wonderful sounding board for Penpa's emotional outburst.

So we can see the rise and fall:
The scene builds up to the development, and the sequel descends to the response. If we deem our pace too slow, we can build the scene and/or summarize the sequel; too fast and we do the opposite.
How can we tell if we're moving too quickly or too slowly?
Jack reckons on gut instinct.
Still, it's nice to be in some sort of control.

(Etching by Albert Peia.)

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