Saturday, May 23, 2009

Writing unique moments

How is it that right when I think everything is going along fine, I run into a road block? Not that it's bad, mind you. It forces me to think. But blogging about what chips away at the big wall of "writing a story" isn't half as good as actually writing.

I've been stuck on a particular scene for days. No matter what I do, it's just...I dunno, blah? There's no spark, no umphf. It's adequate and workmanlike, but doesn't make me want to go back and write more.

Stanislavsky in his book, An Actor Prepares, says "Here, Now, Today". "Why," he asks, "is this moment in time unique and extraordinary?"

What is it about the day I'm describing that's different? What makes it special? Ordinary days create ordinary events, and the last thing I want is for my story to be ordinary. I always tell people to push it. Make it different, make it loud--make it larger than life and fun or angsty, or all the things it can be. It's like Pratchett in his Guards series. He pushes everything, from vampire temperance leagues against the drinking of blood to self-aware zombies that carry around sewing kits in case a bit falls off. Every day is special and different, and things happen. I don't think I've ever read one Guards novel where events weren't building, happening, or serving as a catalyst for something else.

And that got me to thinking about my stuff--and yeah, other peoples stuff, because I have some kind of analyst in my back brain and it says things like, "Why is this so boring?" It's not horrible, or badly written, or even badly plotted.

For some reason it transcends all the obvious and just lies there, like a fish no one wants to pick up.

I think it's because of the unique moments thing. The story starts during a day like a hundred other days, while the heroine does the same stuff, and then the hero shows up, but not in any special way.


Maybe the heroine owns a bed and breakfast in a nice summer resort and today the hero shows up. The story is about to start. It should be a day like no other, but is the sheer fact the hero shows up a catalyst? Is he going to take one look into the heroine's eyes and think, "whoa, babe--you're hot. I'm hot. And the next 300 pages are going to be ninety percent us thinking about how hot we are."

And y'know--that's not so special. The guy shows up? Why? Because he's on vacation?

What makes her owning a bed and breakfast and the hero being on vacation special? Where does the story go next?

Something has to happen "that" day. Something special and unique. Every character has a reality. It'd be hard to say, "today, the aliens landed and the hero is a super secret member of an alien extermination group" if the story is a sweet contemporary. In other words, it has to fit the world.

Maybe the heroine owns a bed and breakfast, and right after serving breakfast to the six people staying with her, all the toilets explode at the same time and water won't stop pouring out of the bowls. Maybe the hero shows up because he's on vacation, but in real life he's a plumber or teaches vo-tech. Maybe the heroine just spent her severance package fixing the family home to use it as a bed and breakfast. It's the grand opening and if everyone leaves, she loses not just the house her mother left her, but her job and child.

...first version:

Heroine opens her bed and breakfast. Hero arrives on vacation. He takes one look at her and thinks, "wow, she's hot." She glances at him and is struck dumb by his sheer masculine perfection.

...unique version:

Toilets explode during the grand opening of heroine's new bed and breakfast. The hero is a plumbing vo-tech teacher on a sorely needed vacation. Without his help, she'll lose her house, her job and her child. Thing is, he hasn't worked on toilets for years. He teaches plumbing. He doesn't plumb. And why should he help her anyway?

In version one, I'm stuck looking for the next thing to happen. There's the potential for a lot of "he went to bed thinking of her slender curves." And going to the lake, or exploring the garden or talking to the other people in the house. Maybe talking to the heroine, eying her while she eyes him.

In version two, I have immediate action. He either helps her or doesn't. Maybe he fixes one thing just to trigger another. Maybe her kid doesn't like him. Maybe to get him to help she offers him free room and board and he starts to feel connected when everyone leaves and finds her crying in the kitchen. Maybe he decides, against his better judgment, he's going to fix her plumbing issue and help her re-open.

Lot of maybe's there. Lots of things that can go wrong or right, or trigger other things. It's a little over the top, but version two has motion the first version doesn't. Because today is a day like no other.

And it is true to the world.


Alice Audrey said...

Ahhhh, so that's what I'm doing wrong. I spend so much of my time working the other direction - trying to make things sound sane enough that my reader will buy into it. It's hard to cut loose.

jodi said...

yeah, me too Alice. It's easy to think about, and hard to remember to do. It just seems easy. :(

Unhinged said...

Hey, I'm alllll for the toilets exploding action. Complication, man! Love it.

As for me, I find it easy to cut loose, to write the unexpected, and not so easy to write the smooth, easy-going stuff that makes SENSE. Also, I'm slow. And have a problem with perseverance. cough

Kaycee James said...

Great advice on how to approach a scene. Now if only I could put it into action. :-)