Thursday, 19 March 2009

More is More

Having decided that there are two distinct skills required to write a novel - the ability to plot and the ability to write in an engaging manner (which, I fear, is pretty much what Agent Cox told me several years ago) - I have been focusing my energy on reconstructing my plot to The Commuters. It wasn't very strong. But I didn't know that until I read it with an eye for developments. I like my new eye, for it has solved problems and answered questions. Well done eye, and thanks. Just need to work on the ears now so that they properly listen to other people. Naughty ears.

Okay, I still haven't quite fathomed the intricacies of plot, despite having twice read Michael Legat's nearly excellent Plotting the Novel. I'm uncertain precisely how plot affects emotional response, or how to fully control sub-plots. But the idea of constant development - an idea that I feel must be buried in that book because it must've come to me from somewhere - has gifted me with a different vision and has, I hope, allowed me to finally understand why my fourth chapter sucks and why my manuscript appears to noodle at times, despite the fact that I'm really not noodling at all, but am laying foundations for some hot revelations and reversals.

To minimise the noodle-effect, I've also built in more developments - that is to say that the big developments remain in place, and I've staggered smaller developments along the way. As such, the reader's understanding grows frequently and in small increments, rather than infrequently and in big increments.
To be honest, this feels a little unecessary in terms of the reader's understanding - after all, the same knowledge is gained by the same point in time. However, what has changed is the constant involvement of the reader through these frequent developments.

Perhaps more really is more?

Undoubtedly, there are more revelations afoot.
Good foot.

Monday, 16 March 2009


My son and I have invented some fun games lately!

1) Describe a tv programme with a different description from the tv guide, e.g.:

7.45. Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway: A security guard is found dead inside an armoured car.

2) Mute a tv programme and play a song on the hi-fi. This worked very well the other day when elderly people showed their attic discoveries to the words of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Sticks. Occasionally, you'll get some near-perfect editing or lip-syncing :D

In these two games, the humour is derived from incongruities!

We've also been inventing card games.
Having spent two hours on his latest game, my son was disappointed that it didn't play very well.
The idea was to create a monster from three randomly-drawn cards such that each player has a unique monster comprising of a head, a body, and legs. Each card has it's own statistics, including attack, defend and agility. The completed monsters pick on each other until only one survives.

The idea was super! However, with the monsters created at the outset, it was immediately clear which monster would ultimately win the fight. As such, the by-rote battles became moot and devoid of excitement: the outcome was predictable, and the weakest player (determined by chance) had no way of turning the tide.
His mechanics were akin to those of Top Trumps, but he had removed the development mechanic - that of pitting new cards against each other every turn - and also the choice mechanic.

I suggested that one body part should be switched each turn, such that gameplay is routinely developed, and this made the game more enjoyable.
In this way, he also took the Top Trumps development mechanic one stage further: rather than an entirely new card each turn, his monsters developed more gradually.

The parallels between games and story-telling are countless!

Plotting can be imagined as an ordering of developments. Or, put another way, a progression of changes.
Each new development brings change. Each change infuses a freshness, and asks the reader to reassess his understanding, and with it his predicted outcome. And that surely helps to maintain a desire to turn those pages.

We can see this clearly in a game such as Deal or No Deal.
Every time a box is opened, the game is developed: that is to say that information is added and the state of the game is changed. This continues all the way to a resolution.

If we applied my son's dynamic to Deal or No Deal, Noel would open the player's chosen box at the outset, the Banker would not exist, the player would not be permitted to make a decision, and all further box-opening would be irrelevant. In short, the outcome would be known from the start, as nothing in the game is developed.
Development = Change.
And, as long as we expect things to continuously change, we are imbued with anticipation. This is often referred to as forward motion or forward momentum.

Taking this a step further, I've been looking at how I've been managing sub-plots.
Imagine that, mid-way through a game of Deal or No Deal, a second game is started.
We now have various methods of development at our disposal:
We could stay with one player through to a resolution, and then return to the other player;
We could leap-frog between players, developing their games one box at a time;
We could stagger these two games in other ways, developing a number of boxes per game at any one visit, and this could be done with or without a symmetry.

N.B. In order to function well as sub-plots, these two games would not be disparate - they would work together towards a single resolution. Perhaps the two players would win half of the total amount each.

So we have management decisions to make when controlling sub-plots: How long should we spend on one-strand before moving to another? How many developments should we create in one strand before moving to another? How many times should we flip between two strands? How does our development affect/create pace?
And this problem is only compounded when more sub-plots are introduced!

I've already been working towards a theory on how best to manage multiple sub-plots.
Most notably, in my post Wait For Me, I was interested in the lead up to a reveal (or a moment of development), and the downtime required immediately after a major change has been instigated; and in Lest We Forget, I wondered how long we could spend away from any one sub-plot - what are the effects of neglecting a sup-plot? In Ripples, I championed the notion of building the ramifications of change.
I've also decided that these moments of change harbour a great, if not the greatest, potential for emotional response.

More thoughts on the management of developments to come shortly ...