This book is going to be the death of me.
Okay, that’s probably just me whining. But it’s making me think about story in different ways than I have before and making me second guess myself. I think that’s good, but it’s disconcerting.
So this weekend I did something very Bob-like: I set up a table for the major action events, divided by acts, and then analyzed all of them for character arcs and relationship arcs. The tables looked like this:
My electricity went out last week. Aside from my knee-jerk “Did I pay. the bill?” panic (I was a broke single mother for a long time), I knew I’d be fine. It’s plenty warm here and I have battery powered lanterns stashed all over the house. My main regrets were not having the laptop and the iPad fully charged and not being able to make quesadillas which I’d prepped all the stuff for.
Then the power came back on, and for hours after that, every time I thought about electricity, I wriggled all over with happiness because I had some. Sometimes we just need to be reminded how happy we are.
What made you happy this week?
Today is World Honeybee Day, which is important because if the hives collapse, civilization doing the same will not be far behind. It’s also Homeless Animal Day, so adopt one. Or two. Two is better so they can talk to each other while you’re at work or the grocery. (The puppy to the right is Claudia, Pat Gaffney’s newest boss.) So be kind to our four-legged and winged friends today, please. (Actually, every day.)
A beat is a unit of conflict.
Actually, there are many definitions of “beats” in writing fiction, but for the purposes of this series, beats are a unit of conflict, analgous to the acts in a story. They’re a tool for finding out what’s wrong with a scene, for strengthening a scene, but probably not for writing one. If you’ve written a scene you think is great, don’t bother with beats. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if a scene isn’t working, then looking for beats is an excellent way to tighten and focus it.
A while back (a long while back), I did a series of writing posts on another blog that I called Writing/Romance. I took that blog offline for admin reasons, and an Argher just asked for the conflict box post back, so I think what I’m going to do is keep the old blog defunct and just do a. Writing/Romance category here. So the Conflict Box post is back up here.
Let me know what other stuff you want me to move front and center in the reposting job; eventually everything but the old Cherry. Saturdays and Happiness Sundays and general admin posts will go back up, but there are hundreds of the suckers and it’s taking me awhile.
The key to a great conflict is that neither the protagonist nor the antagonist can resign from the action. They must keep fighting each other to the bitter end because they need their goals and because they cannot escape each other’s actions. One way to analyze the strength of your story conflict is with a conflict box.
I’m reading Healthy Pasta and watching Leverage episodes to get back into team mode for Nita. And also because I wanted to watch Leverage. The writing in that show is so, so good. Healthy Pasta isn’t quite as riveting but did inspire me to order odd pasta shapes from Amazon.
So what inspiring reading did you do this week?
It’s the middle of August. How did that happen? One good thing about August is that nothing happens in publishing then, so the fact that I’m still slashing at Nita is not being noticed in NYC. That’s why it’s also a good idea if I am finished slashing at Nita in September. Also, I’m so sick of this book, I could spit. Until I start reading it again. Then I love it, even if it is screwed up. Sigh.
I also shaved Veronica and Mona this week. I think the proper term is “clipped,” but since I’m terrible at it, we’re going with shaved. Veronica is delighted, scampering around like a puppy. Mona was temporarily upset–“Again?”–but she’s basically a happy puppy so she’s forgotten the indignity and is also leaping about gaily now. Milton is growing out his Krissie-clip and looks much less chewed. We’re good here.
So what did you work on this week?
Before anybody asks, no I haven’t cut Act Two yet. I’m fairly happy with Act One, and Act Four is going to need very little rewriting and no cutting because it’s already short, thank god, so it’s Act Two and Act Three that I have to cut anywhere from seventy to eighty pages from. Each. As Button would say, Crap.
Act Two is going to be the real bitch, so I skipped ahead to Act Three, thinking it would be a piece of cake since it could be divided into the Three Faces of Nick: 1858, 1934, 1981. And if it were Nick’s book, it would be easy. But it’s Nita’s book, which means that even though I can keep those three divisions, they have to be about Nita, not Nick. I even broke the damn act on the wrong turning point. I had it the scene where Nick collapses from being poisoned, but Nita doesn’t find out about it until several scenes later. So the scene where Nita realizes Nick isn’t Nick any more and she’s alone again, is the turning point. Except I never really wrote that scene, at least not that way.
So now I must rethink this act.
The rest of this post is me thinking out loud, and you know how that goes: disjointed and boring. Feel free to stop reading now.
CateM wrote: “I’m trying to do one of those dual timelines in a story, where Plot A is the protagonist’s current story, and Plot B is a story from their past. I’ve watch this structure go bad many, many times (*cough* Arrow *cough*), but I also know I’ve seen it work really well before (Big Fish, Second Hand Lions). The problem is, in my favorite examples, the past storyline either features a different protagonist than the present storyline, or the past storyline is the main story, and the present is just a framing device (The Notebook, for all its problems). Anyone have any thoughts about what makes this structure work, and what makes it not work? Or examples of ones that work for you, even if you can’t put your finger on why?”
The big problem with running two story lines is that readers/viewers will like one better and see the other as an intrusion, aka the parts people skip. Arrow is an excellent example of that; anytime I’ve gone back to watch again, I’ve fast forwarded through the flashbacks and never missed them. It’s been awhile since I’ve read or seen a narrative that does make that work, and then they tend not to be traditional linear stories (the present story with flashbacks) but more framed stories or patterned plots. So assuming you want. linear structure with flashbacks, I think you have to ask yourself some questions.
- Why do you need both stories?
- Which one is more important?
- Can you do memory instead of flashback?