It’s not easy being my friend.
Krissie wrote me about the book she’s finishing today [details redacted to prevent spoilers on the next Anne Stuart novel):
“So okay, I’ve shut up my internal editor but a raven named Crusie is sitting on my shoulder and saying “nevermore” and “no flashback” and cawing in my ear, so I figure I better confess my sins (not changing them, just confessing).
“We’re getting to the big hot sex scene. [Heroine] locked the [minion] in the [redacted], [hero] is making his way across the island, back to the house, after . . . killing . . . the Big Bad.
“And we’re having some sitting and thinking, which you deplore.
“However, to me it feels like opera or a Broadway musical. The soprano/heroine sings her song of doubt and longing. The tenor/hero sings his song of doubt and longing. The two come together on stage and sing their duet
“I know you hate sitting and thinking scenes, and in general it’s more interesting to have conversations, but sometimes, in some stories, people are alone on the stage. I mean, maybe Hamlet would have been better if he’d been saying, “you know, Horatio, to be or not to be is an interesting question.”
“But we spend a lot of our lives alone in our heads. Probably most of our lives, even the most gregarious of us.
“So I’m thinking my characters are having their arias and the duet is coming up.
First, Krissie gets to write her book any way she wants; she listens to her Girls, not me, and that’s exactly right for her books.
Second, here are all the reasons sittin’ and thinkin’ is exactly wrong for mine.
“[T]o me it feels like opera or a Broadway musical:”
Krissie trained in theater and has lots of stage experience.
I ran the tech crews.
That means she thinks of the characters as actors on a stage, and I think of the actors as not interesting unless they’re colorful and moving in front of great scenery in terrific costumes. Even in a stage play, I get bored with long monologues, especially Hamlet’s; I taught too many undergrads to be interested in college boy angst. He killed your father, Hamlet. Take him out.
But one of the most poignant moments for me in Shakespeare isn’t Hamlet gazing at his navel on the battlements, it’s Macbeth meeting Macduff and saying, “Please don’t fight me, I’m destined to kill you and I’m so sick of blood, I don’t want to kill again.” It’s the moment where Macbeth, the monster, regains his humanity, appalled at the horrors he’s inflicted on Scotland and especially on Macduff. He’s the hero we met in the beginning, and he’s asking Macduff to please spare him from another murder because he’s sick of the carnage. It breaks my heart every damn time I read it or see it, and it would be infinitely less heart-breaking if he was just sitting there thinking about it. And then Macduff gives him the bad news and Macbeth knows he’s going to die, and he still fights on. He could run away, but that’s just not in him, he’s still the hero he was in the beginning, just irrevocably damaged. He’s going to Hell, but he’s going to go fighting. Thank god, he doesn’t monologue, he just picks up that sword and achieves greatness.
Because here’s the thing: Nobody changes because they have an idea. They have an idea or something changes because something happens, usually something that involves action with another person. The eureka moment that comes later is the least interesting thing about the change for me; it’s seeing the change happen that’s fun on the page.
But here’s the other thing: All writers conceive of story in their own way (there are many roads to Oz). Krissie’s work is much more character-centered than mine, steeped in darkness; she really is writing Hamlet and Macbeth, she just redeems them through love. Me, I like people moving briskly in front of bright colors, doing more discovering than thinking, and then realizing in the heat of battle that they’re crazy for each other and probably snarking about that. Krissie loves the dark and I love the light, which is amusing to both of us because Krissie is the most cheerful, loving person you can imagine, and I am a dark, snarky bitch and pleased to be so. So much for write-what-you-know.
“But we spend a lot of our lives alone in our heads. Probably most of our lives, even the most gregarious of us.”
Yes, but sittin’ and thinkin’ is not story. It’s character.
Which I think is another way Krissie and I differ. It’s not that she’s not interested in story–she’s a natural storyteller–or I’m not interested in character–I can’t start a book until I have a protagonist clear in my head–it’s that she shows story through character and I show character through story. Which means her sittin’ and thinkin’ scenes aren’t just there to show character, they move the story through the decisions and changes that happen in that character’s head. And my action scenes aren’t just there to tell the story, they’re there to arc the character and showcase her strengths and weaknesses. We both do both of these things, every good writer does, but our emphasis is on the things about story we’re drawn to, and we’re drawn to different things.
“So I’m thinking my characters are having their arias and the duet is coming up.”
And I’m thinking my characters just fell off a rock, and they have a fight with a giant mutant goat coming up, during which there are going to be huge changes to their relationship which will result in a lot of drinking and a terrible dinner with her mother.
Damn right. There are many roads to Oz. Take the one that gets you there.
[Note: This is not a request for anybody to take sides and decide which way is best. They’re both best. They’re just best for different writers and readers.]