Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Technology and Plots

We started the day with snow, but then it went back to raining, and as it was above freezing, the snow was soon washed away. I might not have even seen it if my mom hadn't called to alert me while I was making breakfast. I still had the blinds closed and hadn't gone out to get the newspaper yet. There's more snow in the forecast for Friday.

I did discover a decadent trick for cold mornings: While I'm brushing my teeth and washing my face, I throw the clothes I'm planning to wear in the dryer for a few minutes. Putting on cold jeans is icky, but it's lovely to put on warm jeans and a warm sweater. It would probably be just as nice to do that with flannel pajamas while I'm in the shower, but that would then mean dashing through the house to the laundry room to get the pajamas out of the dryer. I'll stick with putting the pajamas in the bed when I turn on the electric blanket to warm up the bed while I'm in the shower.

I put in my work time yesterday, but didn't accomplish much. I'm trying to fix the opening scene, and the hard thing is that it's actually okay as it is. It's a lot easier to make a bad or weak scene good than it is to make a decent scene great, and in today's publishing climate, it needs to be great. One problem is that the setting was lacking in specificity. It was like a portrait vignette painting, where you just see the person's face, and then the rest of the background is vague and blurs around the edges. I had the characters and their actions there, but they were just floating in space. The introduction also served mostly to set up the next big action without having any tension or emotional impact. But if I make that opening bit more specific and detailed and really flesh it out, it delays getting to the start of the plot and the discovery that this story isn't really about what the opening scene makes it seem that it will be about. That's the trick with contemporary fantasy when your main characters aren't initially in on the magical secret -- you need to show their world before things change, but then you also need to find a way to show readers that yes, really, this is a fantasy novel. With today's attention spans, I'm not sure how much time you get for that. So then I was trying to decide if I should skip that scene entirely and go straight to the twist, with the opening scene being just backstory that could be covered in one sentence, or if there's a way I could flesh out the scene while bringing up the hint that a twist is coming. At any rate, getting specific required research, and then I realized I'd better research something else I was assuming to make sure it really existed (it does). And then it started raining, and I had a good mystery novel, so I figured I'd set the subconscious to work on the problem.

Hmm, I wonder if I could get away with a prologue. I've never written a prologue before, and there is a past incident that's very relevant to this story that gets talked about as backstory and that I could dramatize. But would it give away too many surprises about the characters? I guess I could always write it and find out, and even if I don't use it, the exercise of writing it will make it more vivid for me as character background.

One thing I am realizing is how much current technology affects plots. We used to be stuck with the news cycle -- that evening's TV news, the next day's newspaper -- for spreading information. Now even the newspapers post articles online as events happen, and then there's stuff like Twitter, so that the moment something happens, it's going to be out there -- and it may or may not be accurate. Not that newspapers were always perfectly accurate, but if your deadline is 6 p.m. and the news isn't going to get out any sooner if you turn your story in before then, you have more time to double check and find additional sources. If your story will be "published" the moment you turn it in, then there's more time pressure, and it's better to have something out there that can then be added to or corrected than to have nothing until you're sure. And meanwhile, anyone with Internet access can Tweet and it can become like a game of Telephone, where you can't be sure if something was posted by an eyewitness who really knew what was going on, by an eyewitness making assumptions, or by someone who heard what people were saying about what happened.

For book plots, what that means is that people are likely to find out about things going on a lot faster -- no more shock when reading the morning newspaper -- and there's more of a chance of miscommunication, which may or may not complicate things. It's also a lot harder to show that someone has special abilities in being able to get a jump on things. There's a fine line between having psychic powers and knowing the moment something happens and being addicted to Twitter so that you see a post about something happening just a moment after it happens. I guess you have to go all the way into seeing the future. Or someone with the ability to know something when it happens could hide that ability by pretending to just be addicted to Twitter -- and then get tripped up when it turns out that nobody found out about it to Tweet it until a while after it happened. Oops.

I have freelance work to do today and a choir rehearsal, plus I need to make a return trip to the library now that it's stopped raining, so writing time will be limited even if I don't get sucked into a mystery novel. It turns out that one of the books I picked up Monday (which is somewhat work-related genre research reading) is the second book in a series. The author's note at the front claimed it was a totally standalone book, and you wouldn't need to know anything about the first one to read this one, but here's a list of the characters and what you need to know about them. The list went on for something like three pages, and it wasn't just like a cast listing for a play (Lord Whoever's daughter, in her mid-20s). It was more like a soap opera episode summary for each person (was poisoned by her then-fiance, but recovered and pretended to be dead so she could confront him later and trick him into admitting his guilt, but before she could do so, he was murdered, and now she has to stay "dead" or else be the prime suspect). (By the way, I made that up. It has nothing to do with this book.) I figured it might actually be easier to keep everything straight if I just read the first book.

And, finally, my ballet slippers are starting to wear out. I consider that a badge of honor. I'm more of a dabbler in most things, so sticking with ballet long enough for my slippers to get holes in them is an achievement. They're not quite ready for the trash as it's just the outer part of the canvas starting to wear through, but next spring I'll probably need a new pair.

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