Thursday 9 April 2009

The Wow/Info Balance - Joan Lennon

As we all know, a lot of writing is problem solving. Which is why I'm always noting down questions to myself like, "What can this character do in this situation that no one else could?" or "What even remotely plausible reason could this character have for being in this place at that time?" or "Why in heaven's name did I think a character from another planet was a good idea?" The question I'm asking myself right now is one I've asked every time I've got myself into writing a series.

"How do I do the link with the previous book(s)?"

It's the balance between the WOW! that grabs the reader by the throat and won't let go, and the need to pass on the information that someone who didn't read the first book(s) will need if they're coming to the series in the middle. (Or have forgotten what happened earlier ...) I know of a dozen really clunky ways of doing this, but what I really want is something slick and elegant - oh, and different from whatever way I used in the last book!

It's a problem.

Time to stop blogging and get back to trying to solve it!


Nick Green said...

For a classic example of this, it's hard to beat the opening of Peter Jackson's film of The Two Towers. The back story problem is expertly handled in the opening scene between Frodo and Sam.

Mordor. The one place in Middle-Earth we don't wanna see any closer. And it's the one place we are trying to get to. And it's just where we can't get. Let’s face it, Mister Frodo. We're lost. I don't think Gandalf meant for us to come this way.

He didn't mean for a lot of things to happen Sam. But they did.
[Frodo falls down, panting.]

Mister Frodo? It's the Ring, isn't it?

It's getting heavier.

There. That tells you almost all you need to know, in less than a minute. Brilliance!

Cathy Butler said...

I can't resist throwing in this example of how NOT to do it, from Sheridan's *The Critic*. It always makes me laugh:

_Sir Christ_. True, gallant Raleigh!

_Dang_. What, they had been talking before?
_Puff_. O yes; all the way as they came along.--[To the
actors.] I beg pardon, gentlemen, but these are particular
friends of mine, whose remarks may be of great service to us.--
[_To_ SNEER _and_ DANGLE.] Don't mind interrupting them
whenever anything strikes you.

_Sir Christ_.
True, gallant Raleigh
But oh, thou champion of thy country's fame,
There is a question which I yet must ask
A question which I never ask'd before--
What mean these mighty armaments?
This general muster? and this throng of chiefs?

_Sneer_. Pray, Mr. Puff, how came Sir Christopher Hatton never to ask that question before?
_Puff_. What before the play began?-how the plague could he?
_Dang_. That's true, i'faith!
_Puff_. But you will hear what he thinks of the matter.

_Sir Christ_.
Alas I my noble friend, when I behold
Yon tented plains in martial symmetry
Array'd; when I count o'er yon glittering lines
Of crested warriors, where the proud steeds' neigh,
And valour-breathing trumpet's shrill appeal,
Responsive vibrate on my listening ear;
When virgin majesty herself I view,
Like her protecting Pallas, veil'd in steel,
With graceful confidence exhort to arms!
When, briefly, all I hear or see bears stamp
Of martial vigilance and stern defence,
I cannot but surmise--forgive, my friend,
If the conjecture's rash--I cannot but
Surmise the state some danger apprehends!

_Sneer_. A very cautious conjecture that.
_Puff_. Yes, that's his character; not to give an opinion
but on secure grounds.--Now then.

_Sir Walt_.
O most accomplish'd Christopher!--

_Puff_. He calls him by his Christian name, to show that
they are on the most familiar terms.

_Sir Walt_. O most accomplish'd Christopher! I find
Thy staunch sagacity still tracks the future,
In the fresh print of the o'ertaken past.

_Puff_. Figurative!

_Sir Walt_. Thy fears are just.
_Sir Christ_. But where? whence? when? and what
The danger is,--methinks I fain would learn.
_Sir Walt_. You know, my friend, scarce two revolving suns,
And three revolving moons, have closed their course
Since haughty Philip, in despite of peace,
With hostile hand hath struck at England's trade.
_Sir Christ_. I know it well.
_Sir Walt_. Philip, you know, is proud Iberia's king!
_Sir Christ_. He is.
_Sir Walt_. His subjects in base bigotry
And Catholic oppression held;-while we,
You know, the Protestant persuasion hold.
_Sir Christ_. We do.
_Sir Walt_. You know, beside, his boasted armament,
The famed Armada, by the Pope baptized,
With purpose to invade these realms--
_Sir Christ_. Is sailed, Our last advices so report.
_Sir Walt_. While the Iberian admiral's chief hope,
His darling son--
_Sir Christ_. Ferolo Whiskerandos hight--
_Sir Walt_. The same--by chance a prisoner hath been ta'en,
And in this fort of Tilbury--
_Sir Christ_. Is now Confined--'tis true, and oft from yon
tall turret's top
I've mark'd the youthful Spaniard's haughty mien
Unconquer'd, though in chains.
_Sir Walt_. You also know--

Dang. Mr. Puff, as he knows all this, why does Sir Walter go on
telling him?
_Puff_. But the audience are not supposed to know any-thing
of the matter, are they?
Sneer. True; but I think you manage ill: for there certainly
appears no reason why Sir Walter should be so communicative.
_Puff_. 'Fore Gad, now, that is one of the most ungrateful observations I ever heard!--for the less inducement he has to tell all this, the more, I think, you ought to be obliged to him; for I am sure you'd know nothing of the matter without it.
_Dang_. That's very true, upon my word.
_Puff_. But you will find he was not going on.

_Sir Christ_. "Enough, enough--'tis plain--and I no more
Am in amazement lost!"--

_Puff_. Here, now you see, Sir Christopher did not in fact
ask any one question for his own information.
_Sneer_. No, indeed: his has been a most disinterested
_Dang_. Really, I find that we are very much obliged to them both.