Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Life After Batteries

Battery art: Dead Star.

What's the difference between a set-up and a hook?

Increasingly, I've been wondering how it is that I find myself addressing the same questions again and again. Am I going round in circles? Am I developing?
I realised that it's a matter of refinement. Each time I re-approach a topic, I tackle it from a different angle, and/or with new knowledge. I think that I must be searching for the simplest solution to all our shared problems!

When I sit and write, I need structure. That's to say that I need some way of deciding what to write and how I should approach it. I need to rate everything that makes it into my ms in some way - to gauge its success according to some sort of scale or technique. A context. A guide. A kind of writers' ruler.

It occurs to me that perhaps the reader does this too, albeit on a different level.
For now, let's lump set-ups and hooks under a single terminology. Let's call them batteries; let's assume that they charge the space beyond them in some way, even if the value of that charge is zero!


Let's take a couple of batteries:

1) Protag passes by a cat and thinks nothing of it.
2) Protag steps in to break up a fight.

I can imagine that in each instance the reader would assign a value to these batteries. Let's go with a rating from 0 to 10 (although the reader's value will doubtlessly be far less specific). And let's, for wont of a more concise measurement, assume that:

0 = No visible propensity for *meaningful change. (*Such as threat to survival.)
1 = Mild propensity for meaningful change.
10 = Maximum propensity for meaningful change.

(Creating a rating system for a writing technique might seem absurd, except that this system relies on a zero, and the system is not binary, and it is designed as a rule-of-thumb.)

In essence, this achieves the following:

1) Places visible and invisible batteries under a single umbrella.
2) Assigns meaning/purpose to them, allowing for assessment.

When the protag passes the cat, he thinks nothing of it, because the author makes no fuss about it. By extension, the reader thinks nothing of it. That cat might cause an enormous meaningful change later in the story: Perhaps it transforms into a vengeful demon intent on destroying the universe. At the point of the battery, however, the reader marks this with a zero and the successive space is not charged (and the reader is not inherently engaged).

Similarly, when the protag steps in to break up the fight, the reader will gauge the propensity for meaningful change: he will weigh up the aggressor/s and the victim/s, the weapon/s, the environment, and so forth. A violent, drug-crazed aggressor wielding a blade is likely (here we rely on preconceptions to a degree!) to inflict meaningful change (irrespective of whether he is aggressor or victim).

To keep the reader turning the pages, I'd suggest that the space he is occupying should always be charged (with a value above zero). This means that the battery should visibly suggest a meaningful change.
The reader should live in a space that is charged above zero.

And what's the difference between a set-up and a hook?
(After all, they both lay down the foundations for what will hopefully be a memorable resolution!)
I'd suggest this distinction:

A set-up is charged with a value of zero. (Invisible.)
A hook is charged with a value greater than zero. (Visible.)

This 'rule-of-thumb' is something that I have needed in order to assess (with any amount of objectivity) the page-turneryness of my ms.
To put it into practise (because this all has to be practical!), I can now look through my ms and rate the batteries and see how charged any space is, and also how muddy any given charge might be.

Still to consider:

* Nested charged spaces (esp. intersections! Am thinking of the combinations required to create a Gestalt, and the impact of muddying charges).

* Relationship between battery and resolution.

* Duration of charged space and the consequences on reader's absorption (See Anticipation.): In a charged space, does the reader's interest increase or diminish over time?

All thoughts are welcome of course! Useful? Unneccessary? Pointless? Overly complicated?
Perhaps I really am going round in circles!
P.S. Does anyone have a copy of my Suspense list to hand? It's the list I compiled a few years ago and covered chases and countdowns and the like.


R1X said...

Top posting, Solve.

I love it, and the concept of batteries - it's much better than cookies and gold nuggets - McKee would be proud.

I'd love to have seen your suspense list - I fear you squirreled it away though!

* Relationship between battery and resolution. - This would be the appliance? The egg whisk or iPod of writing. The battery is applied for a set period and either runs dry or turned on and off and set aside for later!

solv said...

Ooh, imagine Bob pinching your cheek and expressing his admiration!
Still a long way to go with this idea. All thoughts welcomed!
I fear I might have to rewrite the suspense list. It was rather useful.

esruel said...

Tsk! I leave you alone for five minutes and you come up with something brilliant!
The element of disguise and deception has been wonderfully described. Of course, to the uninitiated, it might all seem complicated, but once it sinks in where you are going with this it is well worth remembering. What is important enough to keep the page turning can all blend into one thought process, and this can be dangerous if the writer doesn't consciously conceal or reveal in the right places at the same time. Charges - excellent!