Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 37 - 1361 Words, Plus Paper Tigers and Easy Stakes

In comedy things should be way out of proportion. A huge monster taken down by a tiny bop on the nose is classic stuff.

But one of the reasons that is funny is because it reveals that the monster wasn't all that dangerous in the first place. It was, as they say, a "paper tiger" and easily defeated.

And that's why, if you expect your audience to take Great Peril seriously, you can't take it down too easily. You must have a solution that is as serious as the peril. (And by "peril" I mean not just danger, but any major problem that you use to get your audience emotionally involved.)

But in a mystery, very often big problems are resolved by little things. The discovery or new understanding of a small clue turns the whole story. It's all about remembering that the ticket stub was for Tuesday, not Wednesday, or some such mundane thing like that. If a story has emotional resonance, that doesn't cut it in terms of resolution.

It is one of the reasons why I am often disappointed by "framed detective" stories. Normally a detective goes about his day getting other people out of trouble. When the detective himself comes under suspicion, that's a huge raise in the stakes. He's under threat! That's a gut grabber. So it's not good enough to have him just do exactly what he does to get other people out of trouble. If all he does is worry and then do exactly what he always does, then it's just a more uncomfortable version of a regular story.

I think that what I want is not necessarily a harder solution. I mean, there is nothing worse than having the stakes raised so high that you can't anticipate any solution at all - and you just have to watch the characters flounder until they finally reach the solution. That's just painful. What I want is a proportional reaction.

The TV show White Collar recently had an episode of this kind, and I almost tuned out, but they did a pretty good job of shifting all the characters into high gear to deal with the problem. The detective and his crew went after the case with renewed vigor, and his friends went after the bad guys directly. And that made the story much more interesting.

It's counter intuitive. You'd think that if you show the audience a huge problem, and the character doesn't know what to do, and you don't give them the tools to resolve the situation quickly.... you'd think that would create suspense. But suspense requires anticipation, and all the audience anticipates in that case is pain. The character is in a spot, and there is no way out. When characters take action, though, THAT creates positive anticipation.

And when you do that, you might have an ultimate solution that's pretty easy, but the journey to get to it, or the job of putting it into play has to be in proportion to the emotional pull of the problem.

Running Total: 36966 Words.

36966 / 70000 words. 53% done!

In Today's Pages: George goes dark. Karla pulls it together.

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