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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Attacking a Scene

This scene, the start of a new chapter, is driving me crazy. Two of my investigators are supposed to be leaving Castelle Escalon on an urgent mission. They believe they are closing in on the guilty party. But Something Will Happen before they can leave. The scary Forces of Order arrive and threaten Partner Two. This is a dangerous risk of exposure, and will introduce a Change of Direction in one of the partners that we will see play out through the end of the book.

You can likely see the trouble here - subtlety. I need the scene dramatic enough to be compelling, and yet its truest consequence must be essentially unrecognizable. Ouch. Why do I DO this to myself? Needless to say, this scene has bugged me for days now. I can't seem to get it right.

So, to begin. They are supposed to be leaving the palace, so Partner One is waiting in the stableyard. Partner Two does not show. The crochety stableman (a very minor character who will appear on occasion throughout the books) is griping at Partner One that he needs to get gone because he is upsetting the horses. Part of the stableman's irritation is that there are "guests'" horses that have been there since before dawn. (Hint, these belong to the above-mentioned Forces of Order who are causing the delayed arrival of Partner Two.) I like this crochety guy. I like the fact that the Forces of Order got here very early. Partner One suspected they were coming, but assumed it would be after he was long gone.

First time through: Partner One is annoyed at the delay and marches inside to roust Partner Two. He finds the Forces of Order already ensconced with Partner Two.

Problem: Logic and inference. The Forces of Order would never question people inside the royal residence (certainly not long enough to cause the dramatic change of direction I plan). They would retrieve offenders or witnesses and take them to their own bailiwick. This is part of the essential balance of power in Sabria. [Same reason police really want to take suspects down to the station and not question them at Mafia headquarters.]

Also I'm totally not sure of how Partner Two is going to react to this, which is a question I'm going to have to resolve sometime, but I don't have enough evidence as yet. How can I understand his motivations and make the reaction real, when I don't see him before or during the action?

Second attempt: Partner One takes repeated trips to the stableyard gate to "see if he's coming" and gets an eyeful of the Forces of Order removing three witnesses from the palace. The witnesses are cloaked and hooded to hide their identity. I really like this custom (invented on the fly!) and so I want to keep it. But the logical consequence is that Partner One can't be sure whether or not Partner Two is one of these three hooded witnesses. He rushes into the palace, finds someone to ask, and gets the story of the "removal."

Problem: all the real action is off screen. The scene comes off as passive. One of the most important people involved is never seen. And, as Partner One is not going to be able to do anything about this "questioning" I've set up a truly boring scene where everything of consequence has already happened or is hidden. Whatever reaction Partner Two has to the event is hearsay.

Much gnashing of teeth here on my part.

Third attempt: Partner One takes repeated trips to the stableyard gate to "see if he's coming" and gets a glimpse of two sentries (from the Forces of Order). Uh-oh. Anxiety - he didn't see this coming so soon - propels him into the palace. (Already I have better emotional context.) He gets into place just as the first of the witnesses has been "hooded" and the second is being rousted...and Partner Two will be next. More anxiety. Partner Two has been delayed by a cordon of Forces of Order, and is fuming. Partner One sneaks/talks his way through the cordon [already more action] and joins Partner Two - so we will see them together "before" the event...and something subtle in Two's behavior after the event will hint at the change I'm trying to enable... Oh yeah, this is much, much better...

I'm off! Third time's the charm and all that.

So why include the stableyard at all, you might say. That seemed to cause all the difficulties. Why not have Partner One see the arrival of the Forces of Order from inside?

Because he just wouldn't be there. His residence is in another part of the palace entirely. To have him in place "just right" to see these happenings from the beginning would be contrived. The two partners would never agree to meet inside the palace as they are supposed to be antagonists, one forced into subordination to the other. Their meeting for the journey would occur at the last possible moment. Character and situational logic - as I have created it - must prevail. Yes, I as the author can force circumstances to make anything happen, but especially when the stakes are high and difficult - getting this event to happen with all its subtleties - I don't want to plant a neon arrow sign outside the door, saying "Look At This! Look at This!"

Maybe I've got it now. I'll keep you posted.

Update: Option three worked out even better than I imagines. Once I got moving on it, instilling more of a sense of danger, the elements came together. I had valuable, revelatory time between the two partners that will contrast marvelously with their later encounters. I was able to examine and instill motivation of Partner 2's reaction to being "hooded," as well as drop in details about the customs surrounding the Forces of Order. And I left something important in Partner 1's hands that ties the action both to previous plot points and future ones. If only it hadn't taken me a WEEK to get this right. This is why I'm slow, folks...



Anonymous said...


Sorry for your earlier teeth gnashing and angst regarding this chapter, but sounds like you've got it all going now!

Thanks for sharing the "attempt" by "attempt" analysis and evaluation process with your readers/would be writers. It was fun (for us at least!) to see the problems and points of concern posed and solved (or not) with each scenario. Also appreciated the study as a reminder about how the parts reflect the whole. How the things that go into creating a good chapter (action, plausibility, motivation, foreshadowing, suspense etc.) are the same elements that make up a good whole.

Oh, and I love the set up of the "hooded witness/captive" custom. Much lip-gnawing suspense and twisty misdirection possible there!

Great website, BTW. Looking forward to going back and reading all the posts here and on Deep Genre.

Perpetual Beginner said...

Oh, nice!

I have a scene that is driving me crazy in somewhat different fashion, and it's wonderful to see someone I know writes well a) encounter the same sort of difficulty, and b) get the blow-by-blow of how you dealt with it.

Off to see if I can make my scene work. In my instance, we also have Partners #1 and #2. #1 must die, #2 must live, and #1 is objecting to this state of affairs mightily, because he's the one with better survival skills and instincts - so how would he fall for a trap that #2 gets out of?