Thursday 28 March 2013

Lost In Transitions

When a character is focused on a single objective, the flow of the story is fairly easy to maintain. Detective Sherry Sharp is after the psycho who killed her sister. She hears about another victim found downtown and she’s in the car on her way, enraged and determined.

How you get Detective Sherry from one place to another, and how you manage her emotions from one state to another will more or less take care of itself.

If, however, you have various objectives and storylines to contend with, things can get tricky.

If FBI Special Agent Harrison is assigned to the case and he and Sherry start to develop an attraction so that you have a romance element to the story that gets hot and heavy, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s quite a common type of premise. But switching between the horror of finding mutilated corpses and cheeky flirting between colleagues isn’t something that you can do at will.

Sherry stormed into her office and slammed the door. How dare he come in to her precinct and take over her case. Nobody was going to stop her from catching the son of a bitch who killed Julie. Nobody. Just because he had a shiny FBI badge and broad shoulders and kissable lips, that didn’t mean he could tell her what to do.

That sort of switch of tone is going to be noticeable and jarring.  

The reader  will understand what’s happening in different parts of the story, but it’s a bit like going down a river, hitting a sand bar and having to drag your boat over the ground until you find more water, and then getting back in.

It’s not that you can’t do it if you have to, but it’d be a lot easier if you found a way to stay in the water.

The first thing you can do to avoid this is to maintain a consistent tone. If Detective Sherry is torn up about her sister’s death, she isn’t going to be making goo-goo eyes and swapping snappy one liners. You can still have them end up in bed, but fun and flirty might not be the route to take them there.

Or, iIf you want to have witty banter, then maybe the murder side of things needs to be toned down.

 However, people are complex beings and are capable of compartmentalising. If you wish to explore that side of them, then at least make them self aware. If Detective Sherry recognises that she’s behaving inappropriately with the FBI agent, with her sister lying in the cold ground, then that will lead her to react in a more realistic manner (guilt, shame, anger....).

That approach can even help deepen POV and let us get to know the character better, and maybe like her more (even if she is a wanton slut).

The other technique that can be helpful is to use subtext. What the reader feels without being explicitly told or shown has a powerful effect without getting in the way. If the FBI agent has to change his shirt and Sherry notices how big his muscles are, that might clearly demonstrate that she’s attracted to him, but that kind of bluntness also overwhelms the tone.

If she argues with him all the time but when he goes missing and she’s ordered to go do something else, but she disregards and goes after him on her own, that tells you how she feels about him without hitting the reader over the head with a hammer.

Integrating various storylines so they are consistent and concurrent isn’t always possible, but finding ways to make different aspects of a story equally important emotionally helps make the transition smoother. 

So Detective Sherry wanting to find her sister’s killer and also wanting to go to bed with Special Agent Beefcake is going to be difficult to transition between.

Finding her sister and wanting to stop Agent Harrison also getting killed, much easier to integrate.

But if the two elements are too far apart then you need to consider making a more drastic change. Maybe it isn’t light-hearted banter that brings them together, maybe it’s vulnerability and despair. Or perhaps her sister was killed many years ago so the pain isn’t as fresh and only emerges when triggered by specific events.

Once you identify the problem, there’s always going to be adjustments you can make to fix it. Of course the fix may not be something you want to write about, which is also okay because there’s always more than one fix. Just might take a little longer.
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I've started posted some stories over at Wattpad. Please visit if you're a member (or even if you aren't). My page can be found here.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Don't want to hit our readers on the head. We need them!

mooderino said...

@Alex - No, but you can slap them around a little.

Al Diaz said...

Special Agent Beefcake, what a name. The "don't" example, I've seen it several times and it didn't quite sound right to me, but I didn't know why. Actually, I thought the one wrong was me. Now I know why it sounded wrong.

Higher Powers know I am fan of yours but what is the use of Whattpad?

mooderino said...

@Al Diaz - I'm not entirely sure about Wattpad, just trying it out as a platform to see if it's worth pursuing. Would be interested to hear from anyone who's used it.

Elise Fallson said...

Can we slap other people around too? I've got a list . . .

I really have to be careful about this very topic in my current ms. I've got the mc wanting to discover how her mother died and she's dealing with a love interest and there's magic thrown into the pot.

Stew anyone?

mooderino said...

@Elise - just make sure you put on a false beard before doing any slapping.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I agree Mooderino, we can't afford to flummox our readers with too many things going on in our stories. Wonderful post.

mooderino said...

@Rachna - thanks.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Sounds like it all comes down to knowing your character well enough to keep that consistency.

I've joined up with Wattpad, but admit I've no idea what to actually do with it at this stage, will follow though :)

mooderino said...

@Charmaine-Wattpad seems a bit too teen fanfiction at first glance. Still working it out though. Followed you back.

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

I'm visiting a little early form the A-Z challenge as I'm in Malaysia and it's Monday here already.

Wishing you a successful April!

Keep Calm and A-Z
An A-Z of learning English
Round the world from A to Z

mooderino said...

@Duncan - Hello! Thanks for visiting. I bet it's not covered in snow in Malaysia (like it is here).

Anonymous said...

Stopping by on the first day of the A-Z Challenge.

From the Market to the Plate

mooderino said...

@Susanne - Nice to see you.

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thanks for visiting my painting a day contribution to A to Z Challenge. Hope I can do all 26!

Mary Montague Sikes

Doreen McGettigan said...

Thank you for your visit and comment.
I've enjoyed catching up here.
I'm looking forward to keeping up with your A to Z posts.

mooderino said...

@Mary - I look forward to keeping trackof how you do.

@Doreen - I'll be putting up the first one shortly (honest).

Rusty Carl said...

I'm finding that the broad brushstrokes of writing a story come easy, it's all those damned nuances that keep screwing things up for me... well, that and all those broad brushstrokes, which apparently are harder to do right than I thought.

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