One of the things a discovery draft discovers is tone (“the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing”), which is very close to but not the same as mood (“a distinctive emotional quality or character”). So think of them as attitude and emotion, it you will. The tone of Fast Women is fairly dark, the tone of Bet Me is much lighter and snappier, but I think Bet Me is the more emotional book, and I think Faking It is deeper emotionally than either of them, even though the tone is lighter than both of them. The thing is, I can’t plan tone and mood, they just show up and I have to hope they’re in a good relationship with each other even if they’re very different.
Sometimes the tone is right there from the beginning; the “Cold Hearts” WiP has a screwball tone to it and that’s not gonna change. But sometimes it’s not there, and part of the discovery is finding out what the hell kind of book this is. I think that’s one of the problems with You Again: it’s all over the damn place, plotted as dark but veering into a much lighter tone about 50% of the time. It doesn’t know what it wants to be yet, so it’s resting. I thought the Paradise Park/Monday Street stories were going to be light but they veered dark. That’s fine with me, I just have to cope with how to conceptualize them now.
Which brings us to Nita, which I’ve been struggling with, trying to find that tone. The parts I like best are fast and sharp and angry, not a light tone but not Fast Women dark, either. It’s not screwball (I love screwball, it’s just not turning out to be that), but it’s something else.
And then I realized: It’s a smart-ass buddy cop story, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as romcom (which Kiss Kiss Bang Bang actually was since Harry and Perry should definitely have ended up as a couple). The lovely thing that about that approach is you can do anything, no high is too high, no low is too low, and still deliver an emotional story. (In case you can’t tell, huge Shane Black fan here; see also Lethal Weapon 1 and Iron Man 3 and one of my favorite movies of all time, the aforementioned Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, plus the upcoming The Nice Guys which looks wonderful.)
So the tone in the beginning is off because Nita’s sick and depressed and I was going for realism. The tone in the bar with Vinnie is better because Nick is not depressed and while he’s too focused to be a smart-ass, it’s there underneath. So Nita is going to have to carry the smart-ass weight until Nick gets up to speed later. I think that’s why I like the middle stuff I posted last week: that’s the tone of the book. There’s a huge blow-up scene with her mother in the bar that’s like that, too, and I’ve been putting off rewriting it because even though it’s hopeless in its current state, it just moves so well; the content is off but the tone is dead on.
The big relief in realizing it’s the tone I’m missing is that now I know I can swing wide in this early draft and pull it back later if I go too far. It’s definitely better to go too far than not far enough, which is the problem with the first scene now.
More cogitation is needed of course, but I’m happy with this. Step Three: PROGRESS.