Sunday, 12 July 2009

A Holistic Milestone

Nathan Bransford has posted a brief novel-writing masterclass which is well worth a read.
I've been contemplating something similar, from a more holistic pov, just as a reminder, a milestone, a snapshot, so's I'll have something to chuckle over and comment on in a year or two. (Hello future solv! Hope you've finally got somewhere with the writing you lovely jejeune fool!)
So I shall take a brief sabbatical from the rewrites and spend some quality time with my maggoty companions.

1) Emotional topography:
The interwebnet-a-tron is burgeoning with top techniques for writers. But what purpose do these techniques serve? WHY should I control pace or know my characters inside out or plot or temper my exposition?
Primarily, everything unites to provide the reader with a set of emotional reactions. (Emotional response is more visceral than intellectual response.)
Make 'em laugh and make 'em cry, etc. Has there ever been a great novel which has failed to provoke emotional response?

2) Interest:
We haven't suckled on the teats of the N400 for a while eh?
There's a measurable and demonstrable response within human beings (also known as readers) which suggests that we grow bored if we're not presented with enough stimulae, and that we become stressed if we're presented with too much. It's why we have cookies/breadcrumbs/candy bars/gold coins. It's why we have reveals/reversals/twists/turns. It's probably why everything.
Bob McKee suggests that the full-length novel defaults to a minimum of three acts because three major reversals is the minimum required to sustain a reader's interest.

3) Change:
Lump your expositions and developments and reversals and denouements all under this leathery N400 umbrella! Change demonstrates that the narrative is heading somewhere. If the reader does not believe that the narrative is heading somewhere, she will go elsewhere. Change ensures that the protag's path is not straight, which is lovely because why read on when the end is predictable? Change creates dynamism and prevents stagnation. And, as the N400 indicates, the ramifications of meaningful change must be ramped up incrementally. (I mean to do another post on this because I wonder, under this provision, how it might be possible to open with a momentous change.)

After a super hen night, June wonders how she will make Norwich by noon.

4) Expectation:
Change creates expectation. My fave exponent is the countdown, a (tired) staple of the Russell (Tiberius) Davies plot which defies the viewer to leave her armchair because we all know that after ten and nine comes eight and somewhere at the end things will climax. You don't even need the numbers; there are more sophisticated forms of countdown. I remember seeing a rather disturbing cartoon in which a woman began to strip. The imagined climax is her naked right? But, when she was naked, she removed pieces of skin and bones and organs until she was just a hand with nothing more to pluck. I have also seen guys on their lunch breaks watching a cleverly looped striptease in which a woman sheds garments endlessly. It's amazing to observe just how long a person will watch this animation, long after they have sussed that it's looping. Another sophisticated form of countdown is the chase. In fact, you could probably take the title of every gameshow ever televised and label it 'expectation'. Well, maybe not Celebrity Squares.
Typically, the countdown will contain mini countdowns, or it will be replaced with a smaller countdown. Perhaps all expectation is a countdown?, in that space is charged because a resolution is expected.

5) Charged Space:
To that end, I'd suggest that all a writer needs to know about plot is that it should be a string of charged spaces created by hooks, organised for maximum effect. Yay for contentious statements!

6) Truth:
The honesty of an observation, a remark, a description; the most essential and evocative thing required to not simply elicit an emotional response, but to elicit the most accurate, precise, appropriate emotional response with sincerity and conviction. The ability to reveal the truth is what makes the difference between a good response and a great response. Holly Lisle reckons that writing should be painful; that an author cannot hope to move the reader if she cannot move herself. When the author discerns that insightful truth, she will feel it deeply. Research shows* that, in our day-to-day lives, words account for only 7% of human communication. So what is really happening? What is really going on beneath the surface? How are we actually making sense of our surroundings? What is the truth that we are discerning? Why does that person scare us? Why does that tree fill us with glee?

Anyone have any thoughts to share? I am going to eat fish.

*From Introducing NLP by Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour. Of human communication, 38% is afforded to voice tonality, and 55% to body language.

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