Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wait a Minute. Or Perhaps Longer

After two writing classes today,there is no accident related to your focus on timing.  If, as you believe, story of any sort is about an individual who yearns for something to the point of wanting it right now, timing is more than pace, snappy dialogue, crisp, emphatic movements from your characters.  Timing becomes rather like Sheridan Whiteside, a principal character in that wonderful creation of the playwrights, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, in their comedy drama,  The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Whiteside is not only a full-blown curmudgeon, he is somewhat of a bore and a handful.  The title warns us of his being invited to dinner, taking a tumble and doing considerable damage to his foot, taking root in the home of his hosts, turning their life upside down and into three shades of revenge fantasy.

Your classes made you aware of the way dialogue can seem to slow down, drag on, then turn into conversation because one character won't shut up.  The way to fix this, and to great effect, is to have someone in a great haste, needing to be somewhere in order to do something, except for being held up by this persistent, crashing bore of a conversationalist.  

Hence, Rule One.  Too much dialogue is the perfect counterpoint to play against someone who is in a serious hurry.  Not only will the characters suffer, so will the reader.  You are quite fond of such dramatic circumstances.

Rule Number Two:  Not enough dialogue is the perfect counterpoint for a circumstance where response is an urgent desire.  If well constructed, the shy speaker is suffering because of the pressure he feels to speak out.  The person wanting the information is forced by such aspects as politeness or desperation to be patient and supportive.  The reader is caught in the middle, wretched with discomfort.

The reader cannot be allowed to sink into boredom, instead, the reader should constantly be caught between two forces, the person who wants to speed things up and the person who seems doomed to slow them down.

This cannot be given too light a regard.  Readers say they read for enjoyment, but let's look at what they consider enjoyable things.  There is suspense, for starters, which means readers enjoy being kept in the dark about what will happen next--until what happens next happens.  

There is herding the reader into one of the older devices, the cliffhanger, where someone can literally be left, hanging from a cliff, while the writer cuts away to a new scene with a new set of characters, making the reader put up with information that can well lead to yet another person, in metaphor, hanging from yet another cliff.

Taking a character into account who is quite detail oriented, almost to the point of being fussy about it, we see another variation on the timing theme.  Focus the story on sending this character to perform a specific and complicated task within a short time frame.  

Attach the tin can to the bumper by emphasizing the importance of the task and the consequences tied to its failure.  Bring in our fussy character, set him or her to task, have the clock ticking, then cause fussy character to realize he or she has forgotten something and needs to fetch it. 

In some cases, timing games work with characters for whom the readers become match makers, regardless of whether the author ever intended these characters get together.  The presence of chemistry between two characters, in dialogue, body language, and the possibilities of each finishing sentences for the other adds to the reader's gradual rooting for them to become a couple.
Of course the writer must do everything possible to keep these two apart.  

One of your favorite uses of timing to keep two characters apart comes in Twelfth Night, when Viola is sent as a boy to pursue a love interest for her guardian, Sebastian, whom she has a crush on.

Timing.  Wilkie Collins' words ring in your ear:  "Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait.

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