clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Back to Normal, and half-and-half

At left, an eye-piece view of a group of small arid climate plants through a kaleidoscope. The color is lost on me but the pattern is fantastic.

Whatever element of fear that existed before signing up for a conference has passed. Things are back to normal.

Backspace is running a contest on "the novel that has to be published" based on short excepts from competing works. I have one that I believe is a seed of a larger work which was well reviewed by no special audience. I was tempted to enter it; but, that is the short term bit of hope which ignores the long-term currency of steady work, attention to detail, and the certainty that there is no get-noticed-quickly prize in writing for me.

Not to worry though because it is :



CAPT Alex's wicked bunch is at it again. You can find other entries here at the headquarters of all things insecure.

Tonight I wanted to say something of the half-and-half routine. This is where an author has some wonderful exposition or dialogue butted up against something cheap and lazy (my opinion).

Example :

 Robert's hand tingled from the recoil of the .45. It started at the fleshy part between his thumb and index finger, crawled across his whole palm, flowed up his arm and settled down quite comfortably in his knees. He leaned against the wall and struggled to light a cigarette uncertain if the gun was back in his jacket pocket or had disappeared into the air. He wouldn't be able to testify exactly what had happened to it but then, testifying would mean that he had failed to get away cleanly for executing the right man: his king's former jester. He was overwhelmed.
What's wrong with the preceding paragraph ? I mean, what is its critical flaw ?  You know the post action stage of the plot and you know the preceding bit. You're unsure what comes next but you understand that the killing was for someone more powerful than our murderer. What's the problem ?

"He was overwhelmed." Really ? We see all the rest of the scene through the character and then, narrator guy (that asshole) comes in and tells us something in a completely expository context as if the narrator was the one on those horrendous Walt Disney's Wonderful World we watched as kids. (Sunday night after Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Sorry about the aardvark, Jim).

Let's try it again.

Robert's hand tingled from the recoil of the .45. It started at the fleshy part between his thumb and index finger, crawled across his whole palm, flowed up his arm and settled down quite comfortably in his knees. He leaned against the wall and struggled with his cigarette uncertain if the gun was back in his jacket pocket or had disappeared into the air. 
He wouldn't be able to testify exactly what had happened to the pistol but then, testifying would mean that he had failed to get away cleanly for executing the right man: his king's former jester.
He saw a tear drop onto his right hand as he cupped the unlit cigarette. He last cried when he beat Tommy O'Shea cold after school in the fifth grade when Tommy had a bicycle chain wrapped around his left fist. Robert wiped his cheek with the inside of his right shirt cuff and succeeded in lighting the cigarette on the second try. He tried a half-grin on for size and found it fit just fine after a minute or two.
 We have a little too much florid language here. It isn't hardboiled but it isn't minimalism, either. It wouldn't sell as it is.

The piece above where narrator guy tells us "He was overwhelmed" has zero chance of selling. Poor technique interrupting the scene with the overt exposition.

The second version is wordy. However, we know he last cried when he faced the prospect of a bloody beating which he overcame with some fierce vengeance (beat Tommy O'Shea cold ). We can empathize with the after-combat rush of stress and nervous energy in comparison to the serious fifth-grade fight (bicycle chain around a fist).  We also feel the character recover from the event to some satisfaction (half-grin) and we believe with him now that he's mostly gotten the job done. We're not entirely sure he's out of the woods (half-grin and not a broad satisfied smile ...or maybe executioners just don't smile big).

I call this earlier version half-and-half. It has potential and it has a sense of being present with the character but only until the other shoe drops: the other half from narrator guy. It isn't milk (pure description) and it isn't cream (the story completely from the character's viewpoint: immersion ). Its something between that is only half-and-half.

I think half-and-half is lazy and a poor mark of craft. You are better off just telling the bit from outside the story than jarring us at the end. Why make us feel what the character feels through the elaborate sense of the vibrations of the heavy .45  and then break the spell? Either maintain immersion or blow it off and just say:

Robert leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette on the second try. He was overwhelmed having executed his boss' former confidant. 

Simple works too if your novel has that tone. Chandler did it quite a bit and with success.

5 comments:

elingregory said...

Interesting post. I like your examples.

j welling said...

I'm very glad you enjoyed them. I see so few on the web and I think it makes so many more points transparent.

Thanks for coming by !

Celeste Holloway said...

Good gracious! You're an entertaining man. Now, onto the point of your post...that last line, He was overwhelmed, was worse than perfume sprayed in a fresh cut. That being said, I see this a lot. First they show, then they tell. It's like they run out of juice at the end and decide to give up. Speaking of juice, I can't keep up with you! You're a blogging maniac! :) I wish I had your brain.

j welling said...

C.H.

I first wrote non-fiction for years and years. A little essay every day just helps keep the decks clear and clean.

I cannot do much about my brain; but, I once had occasion to interview the distinguished scientist who had Einstein's brain in a jar on his mantel. We drank tea and discussed it at some length.



celeste holloway said...

Holy, frogs! If you're serious, I'm jealous. If you're joking,(about Einstein's brain) well, again, I'm jealous. :D