Friday, April 04, 2008

Stuff happens - or is supposed to

It’s Friday. Season Four of Battlestar starts today, so even though it’s rainy and dark outside, it’s a good day. And apologies for the rambling. The coffee I just drank has not hit my system yet.

In a drunken rant about writing one night, I yelled out, so the whole pub could hear, I want to read books where sh!t happens. I think I might also have followed that up, it’s not difficult.

But really it is. Getting meaningful events on each page, is freakin’ hard. More so, when also adding conflict, sexual tension and poignancy.
It’s been top of mind lately, because I’ve surrounded myself with really good storytelling. A new historical, Joanna Bourne, The Spymaster’s Lady, read it, you will not be disappointed, especially if you love historicals. I’ve replayed the first three seasons of Battlestar, rewatched 3:10 to Yuma and now my head is filled with great storytelling.

It doesn’t have to be big stuff, but it has to be intensely meaningful to the characters involved. And lately I can tell when I don’t have enough stuff happening, because I stretch scenes out, add conversations that don’t tell us enough and generally slow my pace down to a crawl.

The stuff happening thing is largely a voice issue. Some incredibly talented authors can take one big thing and make it the focus of three, fascinating chapters, while other authors might have five events happening in one chapter. It all works as long as the storytelling works.

I’ve been trying to work the ‘stuff happens’ saying into something actually useful. So far no luck.

I know when I’m reading a book and the writer didn’t have enough stuff happening to fill her page quota. Then we get repeated scenes, but in a new POV, or a tacked on suspense plot, (see every historical romance put out between 1985 and 1995), or long, slow descriptions.

So far all I have on the stuff happens thing is, there is constant forward momentum in both character and plot, and a page that doesn’t do this has no purpose being in the story.

I’ll be more careful what I yell out during the next drunken writer rant.


Kimber Chin said...

I REALLY enjoyed 3:10 to Yuma.
Wasn't expecting to
which made it all the more enjoyable.

I love it when stuff happens too.
What makes me a little crazy
is belly button looking.
I don't even want to look at my own belly button (an innie).
I definitely don't want to look at anyone else's (except maybe the hubby's... and yeah, okay, Jet Li's also).

Anonymous said...

Hey Kimber, I was sort of ho hum going into 3:10 and walked out loving it.
Love it, bellybutton looking. I don't want to read it in print.

Bellybutton gazing doesn't work for me either. Not even Jet Li's, or Clive Owen's.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Uh....Smurphy? As the sober one at the table let me remind you -- that's not what you yelled. And since you brought it up you know I have to say what you really said.

In the same context (making stuff happen) you were yelling. "blow your wad!" Yes. That's what the bar turned around to see.

But - you're right -- You can't save up your plot and only use it at the end of the book. Stuff has to happen all the time.

Love the part Sinead that it's largely about voice and I think that's something I've been struggling with in this current disaster I'm not writing. It doesn't have to be huge stuff - but it has to feel huge to the character and then the reader. If I'm bored (which has been the case) chances are I haven't made the little things big enough.

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post!

And I'm so excited about BSG. I watched the end of the 3rd season last night.

And the shit happening can be small, like you say, as long as it matters to the characters and is tense. Great insights.

JKB said...

Sinead, how was the first episode? I cried and desperately searched the entire internet, but I can't get it over here and that bites. I wish I COULD!


Anonymous said...

Hey JKB, sorry to get back to you late on this.
The first episode was good, not the greatest episode they've done, but still great.
I'm not spoiling anything so I won't tell you much, but it should be on the net. I'll ask Hubby and see where he finds his stuff.

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