clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Thursday, December 6, 2012


My Christmas tree has a continuity problem this year. The lights are out.

I have a pair of stories with the same problem.

I re-read a couple of rough drafts today that are candidates for re-writing as first drafts here during the holidays. The premise is interesting in both. The settings are cool. The characters and their actions seem believable.

However, the action chains in both stories are ungainly. They're awkward. The action doesn't flow smoothly. Now, I hate to say that we always have to have rising or falling action. In a novel that is generally poor construction. In a short story, sometimes we don't have time to provide the square-dance of doom. We have time for a quick polka and that's it.

In short story, the action and the pace of the action contribute heavily to reader impression. If a chain of events occur driving the character forward, then it reads better for those events to go from smallest to largest.

You can't  burn down the house in the opening scene, spill coffee in the next, back over a neighbor kid's bicycle in the third and find out your spouse is pregnant in the fourth. Is that the order of the true life events which inspired the tale ? Sure.  However, in short fiction though we need to enforce plausibility and use our structure to help direct the reader.

What are we trying to set-up by including these events ? Are we under the "worst day ever" design before the cops find a body in the basement ?  If so, we need to adjust things so the story starts small and winds to the punch : "there's a body down here, bub. Know anything about that ?"

Now we have a guy who is a four-time loser today whose worst problem is the last one : the cops. [ Yes, I'll call an unexpected pregnancy a problem. YMMV.]

I have a couple drafts that did not help drive the reader towards the emotional pitch I want. The event chain will have to be altered. It's the sort of continuity decision that the bullshit meter should detect. Writing is about making decisions and sometimes that reflects on making the right decisions in the right order.

There are stories that are so rich with characters and emotional interaction that physical action can be ignored. It doesn't contribute. However, the emotional  payoff had better do the job of pulling the reader onward. How ?  Crescendo is always a steady technique.

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