Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day 27 - Studying Technique

Twenty-seven.  A mathematically magical number -- Three to the third power.  Not a bad day for progress, but I could have done better.  Did a little teeny tiny bit of drawing, too.

Today's Progress: 1183 words on In Flight.

Dealt with a tricky emotional scene in which Angela gets some very bad news.  Of course, I now realize that half the emotional turning points in it should probably happen earlier, in order to simplify her reaction.  It shouldn't be hard to change, but I don't quite feel up to it yet.  It's exploratory writing right now.

I also did a few odds and ends.  This thing may end up being a full novel after all.  (Also, I'm having doubts about the exciting suspense climax.  I think I have to consider not only what should happen but also what people might expect.  I'm pretty sure somebody has to go sailing over the edge, but I'm beginning to think maybe it's the protagonist.  But I also have to work out a double-twist.  Hmmmmm.)

Eating, Watching, Reading (and drawing)

Made "Agents of SHIELD" cookies, and ate leftover Chinese food while listening to the audiobook of The Family Vault.  I didn't watch much of anything.  As I listen, I am enjoying myself, and I am reminded of what I do really like about Charlotte MacLeod... and also what I don't (which is screechy bullying characters the heroine has to tolerate).  In her early work, though, she tended toward less of that, and more of what I am looking for.

I'm re-reading (re-listening?) to this for my own pleasure, of course, but also to get a sense of how those pleasurable moments work -- how MacLeod handles the pacing, etc.  I'm mentally noting, in particular, the bits where I sink into the prose: how much action, how much description, the kinds of details.

This is something you can do with any age and any genre of fiction.  Someone in the comments the other day seemed concerned that I was looking to older titles for my "voice research" (as I think of it).  Yes, it is true that if you are writing to market -- especially if you are seeking traditional publication, or the same audience as traditional publishers -- you really do need to know what's out there.  But that's not what I'm looking for.

I am looking for the effect that techniques have on the reader.  While different genres go for different effects more than others, you will find the techniques and effects anywhere.  Why is the number thirty-seven funnier than the number three?  How can stillness be dynamic and active?  Notice how slowing down and giving more details increases the apparent pace sometimes, while leaving out detail can make things seem slow.  If you're a filmmaker, you have to watch the masters no matter what the genre or age of the work.  You have to see how a dolly zoom is unsettling in different ways in the hands of different directors.

(I was going to give you examples, but YouTube is down right now.  I'll probably turn it into a full blown blog post for the fall.)

What I'm watching for with Charlotte MacLeod is how she balances the traditional mystery, humor and woman in jeopardy aspects of the story.  In particular how she handles the sense of menace -- what kind and how much and where is it applied?  That's one of the things I like about The Family Vault -- it is really darn near pitch-perfect  in terms of handling menace.  I don't think MacLeod ever did it as well before or after.

I think I need to add this to the "story breakdown" list -- movies and books I want to do a full beat-by-beat breakdown on, to show how the parts work. 

See you in the funny papers.


stu said...

Surely the main point for voice at least is less what's "now" and more what you respond to? It's a very personal process.

The Daring Novelist said...

To be fair, I phrased what I was doing pretty generally, and the commenter didn't realize I was talking about voice, I think. What I said also applies to genre style, which changes over time.

But yeah, that's the thing about what's "now" is that what's in fashion is not always (or even often) universal. If you want to understand how things work, it can be best to look at something that is out of date, because you can see what is just fashion and what actually still works.

I don't think that Charlotte MacLeod is particularly dated. Her style still works extremely well. Frances and Richard Lockridge, on the other hand, though I love them dearly, are quite dated.

But.. the Lockridges did the things I love much more consistently. So there is a lot of material in which to seek an understanding of what works, even if you do have to always peel back layers of style or dated subject matter.