Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNo: Day Five (Plotting, Pacing and Character)

So, five days in and I’ve made it to over 27,000 words! I’m proud of myself for keeping up the pace and sticking to it and I’m enjoying the way the story’s unfolding. All the plotting I did beforehand is making it very easy to stay on track. I know what each scene needs, even if I did underestimate the length of some scenes.

Which has gotten me thinking about scene planning. When it comes to figuring out where a scene should go, you have to consider things like foreshadowing, the order of events, pacing, character introductions and setting introduction. You have to introduce magic before it’s used for anything important, each character needs to get an introduction of some sort, and events have to line up so that everybody has the knowledge they need for the scene to play out. Pacing requires that scenes are long enough to feel important and to involve the reader, without being so long that they become tedious, repetitive or bring the story to a halt.

A writer needs to balance these elements in each and every scene. But how do you do that? Well, chronological events are easy enough—unless you’re not writing a chronological story, but that’s another post entirely—you just put the scenes in the order they would have to happen for the story to come to its conclusion. But there are always events that aren’t defined by the chronological order in which they happen. They could happen at various points in the story and while the story would play out differently because of it, the overall plot wouldn’t change. Such as characters meeting one another, which is my topic for today.

Story events can take a completely different path if the characters come together at the beginning of the book, or if they meet farther in. This is especially true if they both have a piece of the plot, but not the whole of it. Their working together early in the book means they both have a wider knowledge from the start, they have access to more information from the start, and they have one another to depend on for back up or support.

But what happens if their meeting is delayed? If they don’t meet each other early on and they don’t have that missing piece of knowledge and they’re not seeing the whole picture? Well, it makes it harder for the characters, which often makes it more interesting for the reader. A character overcoming deficits and challenges is integral to most stories, right? And the character will eventually have that big moment of revelation when they discover what they’ve been overlooking all this time, made larger because of the wait.

If there’s a romantic theme, the characters should probably meet as soon as possible, but what about in non-romantic fantasy? Most of the time, characters meet up quickly and then go about their business, but delaying those meetings could be a way to add tension and drama to a plot. If both the characters have a POV, and the reader knows what they both know, they’ll be routing for the two of them to meet up (to cooperate or fight it out) so that the puzzle can be completed. I think it would be even more interesting if the reader didn’t know how it would provide a solution, but was still clued into the fact that it would.

There are some risks, of course. If you draw the “when will they meet” tension out too long, it loses its power and becomes boring or even frustrating. Each character needs a firm arch of their own to pull it off, too, since they’ll be moving through some of the story without the other character to play off of. Their plot trajectory may need some thought, since you have to keep them from finding out information as well as plan out the information they do learn.

But I think it would provide a good reason why character A doesn’t know about this or that. Character B knows, but isn’t around to tell them. That lets the reader know as well, but forces Character A to act in whatever way is appropriate without that knowledge.

Often, I find that I have the characters meet at the first possible opportunity, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for the book. Obviously, it’s not possible or desirable to delay all the character meetings until the middle of the book. But, mixing in a few key delayed character meetings can create interesting twists and turns that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I’ll be paying a lot more attention character meetings in the future.

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