Friday, March 10, 2006

Delaying action

Wow. We have dark clouds and strong winds today. It might even rain, though so far it has not. Since we are in the midst of a drought, rain would be wonderful. Even if we weren't in a drought, rain is wonderful.

Anyway, I began the revision of Chapter 2 yesterday, just looking through it and starting to think about what I didn't like about it. Today I continued that and, being unable to figure out what exactly was wrong, I did what I often do in such cases: I made an outline of what was there. That is, I read through it slowly and noted for each page, paragraph by paragraph, what was happening. Like this:

Page 1, Paragraph 1: Abramm confronts the wolf thingies behind him
Page 2, Paragraph 1: description of their battle array plus his evaluation of the situation
Page 2, Paragraph 2: thoughts of despair and gloom
Page 2, Paragraph 3: description of the wolves's breath and the sounds the men are making...

And so on. I find when I do that it is much easier to see what exactly is happening, and if, in fact, anything of consequence is even happening.

Sometimes writers get into a problem with action sequences where they do no more than delay the thing they really want to happen. (I tend to be one of those writers.) For example, you may have a story about the relationship between Jane and Joe and at this point in the plot, Jane has decided that the relationship is over and arranges to meet Joe at the coffee shop to tell him.

You begin by describing Jane as she goes out to her car only to find that the battery is dead. So she rushes to the bus stop and just manages to catch the bus to the coffee shop. But then the bus breaks down. Heading over to another bustop, she gets lost, but finds her way back and finally gets on another bus. This one lets her off at the wrong spot so she has to walk, but on the way she breaks the heel of her shoe and has to travel barefoot... and so on, until she finally gets to the coffee shop.

It may be that the entire sequence is quite disturbing to Jane, and she agonizes her way through all of it, worrying about whether Joe will be there or not, worrying about what he will say, what she will say; maybe you have some really evocative descriptions of the bus and the other passengers, etc, but still... you don't have to show any of it, because none of it changes the fact that Jane will eventually tell Joe they are breaking up. Even if Joe has left the coffee shop and Jane's announcement is put off to another day, nothing has been changed by the bus fiasco. The main event is the relationship between Jane and Joe, not Jane's troubles en route to the meeting. It's not until she tells him her decision that the actual plot continues.

That's the sort of problem I was having with chapter 2 -- although there are no coffee shops, buses or dead batteries in chapter 2! Though the action was interesting, it served as little more than a delaying factor. If it didn't happen, nothing that came after would really be changed.

The solution in such a case is to either cut such passages out altogether, insert the material only as summary (if it matters at all), or change the events enough that they now relate to the actual plot. In this case, I did all three. And I'm happy to say that I've reached the midpoint of page 12 and am at this moment pretty happy with how things are going, not only for how the whole scene has acquired more relevance in the moment but also as things will develop down the road.