Friday, October 15, 2010

Who they are, and how to get them there at the right time...

Do you struggle with story logistics the way I do? When I say "story logistics," I mean places in a story where in order for something critical to happen for the plot, you've got to

1. introduce a bunch of people, or
2. move someone or something or some group of people from one place to another, or
3. have a bunch of time go by.

It drives me crazy. You have to do this stuff, yet it's dreadfully hard to make it happen without having it devolve into a bunch of "telling" (oooh, not telling!). The fact is, you'd rather just jump to the fun exciting part and make it happen without having to worry about it (unless the quest is the thing).

But you do have to worry about it.

I find that there's often a tradeoff, as in the chapter I'm writing now. Character N gets a piece of news, then has to gather his friends and go off somewhere to act on that news. The real action and excitement are in the action on the news, so I tried to avoid moving a bunch of people from one place to another and having a lot of time go by - but when I tried to start writing it there, it didn't work.

The problem was with the characters. This story has quite a lot of characters, and in this chapter I land readers right in the midst of a pocket filled with heretofore unfamiliar ones. Sure, we've seen them before from afar, but now we're in the point of view of an insider to the group - and he'd know each of them personally. If I tried to start at the point where the action was most exciting, I'd have to detract from that very action by working through a very ugly and clunky list of characters, who would then be difficult to keep track of as the story went on.

After some thinking I decided to do it the other way. To give them the time, and to see if I can move over their travel relatively quickly and smoothly on the way to the main action. If I include the time and the travel, then it gives me room to introduce the necessary characters and have them be distinct from one another. It also gives me time to do more things that I love to do: to show more about the point of view character and the difficulties he has in getting things done; to dive into the social dynamic of this group and explore the push and pull of how it hangs together. N has to go and get his best friend first, and then the group's fastest runner, who is also the most loyal group member - and at that point they discuss who else in the group they need before gathering them and going off for the big to-do. It sets up information that some group members don't know, which adds tension going forward, and allows for a gradual increase in tension and overall emotional dynamics.

The decision for me isn't always clear-cut. In this case, the advantages of the logistical delay outweighed the disadvantages. It's something worth thinking about the next time you slap your own forehead and say, "How the heck am I going to get them there?"