Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Tools of the Tried

Once the concept for a story is mounted in place, the stage set, as it were, for the combination and collision of elements that will produce a surprise none of us, neither the characters nor you have anticipated in totality, it safe, but not entirely prudent to relax, watch the action.  Working this way is of a piece with trying to stage a surprise party for someone with a large group of friends.

Who or what will make the surprise target suspicious?  What complete stranger might give the whole plot away, without any intent of being a spoiler?

The analogies seem to focus on the writer, although characters have been known to tip the hand of the surprise.

Relevant culprits are the writer not being willing to trust the reader to "get" the intent of the characters (which is reminiscent of the adverb not trusting the verb to get the work done), the writer trying too hard to make the characters civil, the writer thinking, and the writer failing to send the characters into the point of combustion.

Other important tools here are the sentence, the paragraph, and the scene.  All are predicated on the word.  Do we really have to go into words, particularly equivocal words?  No, not here. No discussions of sentences beginning with "it" as in "It was raining," or "It was cold."  Please.

A sentence has more effect when it is framed in the active voice; a paragraph redolent of the sensual presence of smells, tastes, pulsing heat or bone-chilling cold is a paragraph that takes us somewhere.  We might not wish to go there, but so much the better.

How nice it is to be able to assert with conviction that the scene is the basic unit of drama, nicer still to be able to say so in connection with the basic tools forming the foundation of the scene, yet nicer to discuss the ingredients required to concoct a scene.  Characters, of course.  Setting.  Pacing.  Thought you'd never get around to dialogue.

There are more, of course.  One of the great ingredients in a scene is suspense, curiosity about what will come next.  Some pretty remarkable things relative to scene will come next.

You'll see.

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