Saturday, 8 August 2009


Well, let me begin by thanking all the lovely maggoteers who emailed me with dreams yesterday! Very much appreciated, and I'll have some conclusions shortly. Last night I dreamt that Gordon Ramsay was showing me how to remove the flesh from lobster claws.

Now, I encountered a commenter somewhere the other day. She complained of having a saggy middle. Of course, I was tempted to advise her to cut back on the chips, but thought better of it. I got to wondering what she meant; I've heard of saggy middles, but have yet to experience them for myself - although there was this time a couple of years back where I got the take-away meals:exercise ratio a little wrong. (Nope: that's not sufficiently developed from the chips remark and so is unsuccessful and would normally be revised or edited; but it's worth keeping in for this post!)

I spent yesterday evening working up ideas for my new project. I've taken the high concept and some of the better reversals and high stake decisions from my Tethered Light trilogy, but nothing else: new characters, new plot, etc. And I got stuck in, plotting my opening.
You know, I got to thinking: If the reader really and truly wants suspense and twists and immersion from the off, let's see how much they can take! Ha!
It struck me how easy it was. I could do this until the reader lies on the floor gasping for air.
By the end of chapter one, I had two reversals, a chase, a countdown, a major hook, a minor hook, and a major set-up (invisible hook which allows for creation of enormous reversal at end of book two). I had the protag's character flaw in place, establishment and immersion through shows and through minimal dialogue, forward momentum, soupcon of top end N400, and a super cliffhanger.
Can you guess what occurred to me next?

Ah, yes, um, chapter two next. Ho hum. Chapter two. Twooo. Second chapter. Definitely need a second chapter. Number two.

The moment I read of the commenter's problematic saggy middle, I felt pleased with myself for never having encountered it. And the instant I felt pleased with myself, the don't-go-kidding-yourself-you-dolt bells rang and I realised that I probably had encountered it and simply had not realised. Or I had been very lucky.
I don't know which is true. However, I know I avoided it in my previous project because I set it up in acts. Which is to say that I was regularly working towards an imminent major reversal. Which is to say that Bob McKee spared me the pain of sagginess.

In plotting my opening chapter, I got to thinking: How long shall I keep this up? Another reversal? Another hook? How many? I can go on and on!
So I thought about the opening to Raiders and imagined Mr. Spielberg thinking: How many traps should I place into this temple? How many reversals? How many hooks?
Let's not forget that this opening scene has nothing to do with the story at all. Nothing at all. The story begins when the two government officials pay Indy a visit, bringing their intercepted Nazi communication inciting incident. But what a tedious opening that would be right? What we want from that opening is immersion and introduction to Indy, wrapped in exciting suspense and reversals right? I'm right, right?

Did anyone catch Goldie's classical composition? Unable to read or write musical notatation, he elected to plot his composition with a linear sketch which essentially captured the dynamics of his piece: it would open with a bang and then to silence and fragmented sounds would grow to a climax of religious ecstasy and then a period of harmonic darkness, into the open-ended denouement.

In my post Ripples, I looked at the idea of development - of ripples spreading out from the protag's core if you will. Start small and grow. I subsequently began to wonder how an author might achieve this if they elect to open with something big! Where can they go from there? How big? If you start with the biggest thing imaginable, then the ending can only, at best, be of equal bigness. And that's not much of a recipe for dynamism.
Hmm ... Haven't we been looking at tension and release recently?
Or, to imagine the idea in another way, what if those government officials met up with Indy as the boulder was crushing everything at his heels? They'd all be running together, from this boulder, delivering the inciting incident. Jeez Indy ... huff puff ... we've just intercepted this message ... agh it's gaining ... faster ..! Have you heard of Tanis ..? Run!
How foolish. The viewer needed a break by then. Chill out in the library for a bit with silly Marcus.

That said, it occurs to me that the inciting incident scene, or any saggy scene, might easily be charged, and that's the beauty of the chase! As soon as Ahab set off for revenge, or as soon as that Terminator came back for Sarah, or that bloody bear tirelessly hunted Torak, everything is subsequently charged. Sure, the charge diminishes over time (rather rapidly I'd say), and soon enough our characters can sit about discussing stuff, drinking wine, falling in love, et al; but it only takes a snapping branch or rustling bush to kick start the suspense again! And as long as the stakes are rising with each revitalisation of the chase, things are building to a head!
But I do like Indy's quiet down time. Because when you reset to nothing, then you have everywhere to go! It's a matter of dynamic intensity.

So that saggy middle! Sounds to me as though the topography is wrong; sounds as though the three act major reversals technique is missing; sounds as though the charge has diluted.
Back to my plotting. Laters.

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