25 August 2010

Oak to Acorn

I had a massive epiphany on Monday, and I'm tremendously excited about it. Not only am I now, thanks to Monday's effort, an entire week ahead of schedule on the edits of Jesscapades, I've also pinpointed a major thing that was wrong with the first draft.

The plot is majorly broken, I knew that - but this is something more. It's about the core of the story, the theme and message and point that I was never quite happy with, because it basically seemed to be 'ignore authority and take revenge into your owns hands', which, you know, is fine for some people, but not exactly the kind of thing I want to be upholding, yes? I like to think I'm a decent sort of person, after all (yay, self delusion! O:) :D).

But I realised, in Monday's work, that I'd been coming at the story all wrong, trying to summarise it wrong. Monday's task (and the theoretical task for the rest of the week) was to summarise each of my scenes in a single sentence, including the protagonist, the antagonist, the conflict between the two, and the twist - that all-important change that is the entire point of the scene.

I discovered, on Monday, that I'm getting pretty good at this whole sentence thing. Practice really does make you improve; who knew? Ha.

But I also discovered that this is a fantastic tool for sharpening your focus in your scenes. I mean, I kind of knew that already, but I'd never seen it in practice, you know? I'd only ever used the sentence personally as a way to make sure the scene had all its requisite appendages. But focus? Yes, it's good for that.

So, demos. Quick note: 'frankenscene' is a HollyLisleism for a scene that has two main foci, and thus is actually two scenes smooshed together, masquerading as a single scene.

Scene 11. Guilty girl, faced with yet another body she thinks is her fault, tries to reassert her authority and is reminded that she’s no longer in charge [AND THEN] distressed student spills her problems to her friends and they advise her to speak to the headmaster.

Sentence written not as a frankenscene: guilty girl, faced with yet another body she thinks is her fault, asks her friends for advice about her assignment and they suggest she talk to the principal.

But see how there’s a disconnect in this one? The first half of the sentence is about her guilt and dead bodies; the second is about her assignment and advice. Although it can be written in one sentence, there is a thematic disconnect there, which is what flagged to me that this had to be a Frankenscene; it has a split focus, in other words.

Here's one that's the opposite way around, one I was tempted to write as a Frankenscene until I realised that it did, actually, have unity of focus:

Scene 8. Boy avoids friend by going for a walk with vaguely annoying girl and they are interrupted by another student with a message for the girl, and Boy discovers everyone has similar assignments.

Written as a Frankenscene: Boy avoids friend by sitting with vaguely annoying girl at dinner and they end up going for a walk [AND THEN] Their walk is interrupted by another student with a message for girl, who threatens the messenger, exposing to John the fact that everyone knows about the kill-or-be-killed assignments.

Easily written as a frankenscene, but seriously, is ‘they end up going for a walk’ worthy of being a twist in its own right? Uh, no. LAAme. So, even though there COULD be multiple foci to this scene, there is only one MEANINGFUL one :)

Which got me thinking about the novel as a whole. Some previous attempts at summing up the novel were as follows:

Jess became an assassin of Fate in order to serve justice, so when she finds out she's been given an assignment to kill an innocent, she's furious. But then it looks like he's trying to kill her, and all of a sudden survival seems more important than justice...

Jessana Peakes became an assassin to serve justice - but now she's fighting for her life as the strangers who drove her to the school come after her once again, and her best friend seems to be trying to kill her.

But after seeing the sentence in action as a focus, er, focuser (O:)), I realised I was pursuing the wrong end of the stick. What was the change, the one thing that mattered in this story, the twist? Twists are usually near the end (of the scene, the story, whatever), so I hunted, and realised this:

The point of Jesscapades as it stands is that because Jess decides to pursue revenge for her sister’s death despite the Shard's code that Shards shall not kill for any other than Fate, her best friend ends up getting killed, which is the very reason she wanted to ignore the Shard's code in the first place - because it had told her she had to kill her friend.

Somewhat convoluted when I phrase it like that, but infinitely clearer in focus. And even if I were to rewrite the novel now WITHOUT resurrecting Jess's previously-dead sister, it would be a lot more coherent and cohesive - because I found my focus. I squeezed my oak tree of a story down into a tiny little acorn.

And it wasn't, 'take revenge into your own hands'. See? I told you I was a nice person, really O:)


Anne Beeche said...

Have you ever heard of the Snowflake Method? It's one method to writing the first draft of a story, the first step being to write a single sentence describing your plot.

The author of the method claims that this helps spot any problems in your story structure early on before you have 20k worth of draft already written. I believe you have encountered this sort of problem first-hand.

Amy Laurens said...

Hi Anne, and sorry for the majorly belated reply. Ouch, a month?? Ack.

ANYway. Yes, have heard of the Snowflake method and have read all about it. The Snowflake method itself is a little too intense for me, in that if I do that much planning for the story I can't get motivated to write it because it feels like it's already written. These days, however, I do like the Snowflake-lite (:D) before I write :o)

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