Sunday, March 14, 2010

Finding the balance

What is perhaps the trickiest thing I've found with my WIP is finding the right balance between the two pieces of my characters. Daniel at work is a different man from Daniel at home, and Beckett at work is a very different man from Beckett at home. Once one begins working with Daniel the Inquisitive and Beckett the Regan, it becomes incredibly easy to keep rolling with them, not in the least aided by the fact that the investigation makes for (I think) most of the better parts of the story. But the glimpses of the characters at home are incredibly important as well -- for Daniel, because it paints us a better portrait of our hero; for Beckett, because without it he becomes a one-dimensional hard-ass Cowboy Cop, like Gene Hunt, who is incredibly amusing but just would not work outside pulp fiction, if we were to insert such a character into literature. Sure, my book isn't a literary masterpiece, but I like to think it's better than the old dime novels (much as I love them).

And whether focusing on home or work, it's important to find the right balance between thoughts and descriptions, particularly because I am using third person limited. It's one thing to say Daniel was confused by something. It's quite another to go into immense detail. This, so far, has proved to be less of a challenge, but it is still something I am forced to keep in mind as I go along. Too much detail about one thought can break the narrator's style and can potentially make the reader feel like they've been gipped in places. Of course, some situations call for more or less internalization. Daniel's brushes with Rocelyn, obviously, deal more with Daniel's thoughts and feelings than, say, Daniel walking down the street arguing with Beckett (I swear, if they keep carrying on like they do, I'm buying them rings and shipping them across the pond).

In fact, the balance in everything is important. Too much of the comedic side of Beckett's policing style, or too much of the more grim aspects of the case (okay, to be fair, we're not quite to this point), will shift the book tonally into all the wrong places and can make what would otherwise be fairly innocuous tonal changes seem like skipping from Inverness to Miami in a manner of seconds. Although Daniel is the main character and the bulk of the story is told from his POV, focusing too much on Daniel will ultimately just bog things down in a variety of ways. Some of what must be balanced is easier to handle than others, though I would say more than half of it requires at least some degree of conscious effort to maintain that balance.

I actually think probably the hardest place to balance it, even more than work vs home life, is the internalization aspect. In a lot of ways, they're all connected by the notion of internalization, too. In chapter seven, Daniel has a nightmare. He uses vodka to pull himself out of the initial paranoid post-nightmare haze, and then he just kind of auto-pilots himself into calling his brother and going along to church with his family. I feel like the segment works fine the way it is (whether future betas agree is TBS) but I did make a few changes as I went along. Initially, I really played up the paranoia. After all, we've all woken up from nightmares before. Particularly in the early moments upon waking up, when we're not totally awake and that dream is still fresh in our minds, it's probably at its most terrifying. And I've found some aspect of the nightmare keeps with me for a while. Even if I manage to suppress it, it usually takes a couple of days to drive that one, truly horrifying thought from my mind. So it makes sense to really scare the piss out of him right?

Maybe. If that's what you're going for. But the point of it isn't that Daniel is afraid -- yes, he is -- the point is it's Daniel the Man, not Daniel the Copper. And in some ways, it conveys that fear better. I have a decent sized closet...not sure on the exact size, but large enough to be walk-in. When I've had a nightmare, I often don't want to go into my closet and usually leave a gap in the shower curtain as an escape route. I move very quickly when grabbing clothes, when getting dressed, when showering, when doing anything that involves me being in a place that isn't a "safe spot" (of which there's really only one given the current set-up). And so Daniel moves quickly when he showers. He just throws on the first clothes he grabs and gets the hell out of his bedroom.

And because chapter seven involves Daniel going to church, we obviously touch on his opinions about it. Daniel's an agnostic with a slight atheistic bent who dislikes the way church works. Sure, this is spelled out slightly with a bit of backstory, but slightly. And it really only tells us what that sentence there tells us. Exactly how much he dislikes church is revealed steadily, through little touches, like the description of the church. It doesn't go into insane detail, but it paints both a portrait of the church as it is, and a portrait of the church as Daniel sees it. It's also incredibly easy to fall back on a bunch of bitter grumbles about hating his brother. Instead, his slight dislike of (not hatred) is revealed steadily through little things, like simply stating that Daniel followed Zeke to his M3. Remember: It's established early on that Danny's living in a lower middle-class apartment he can barely afford in the poorest district of the city.

This isn't to say "infodumps" don't exist. I wouldn't call them infodumps, per se, but you could possibly label them as such. Mini-infodumps, if you really want to use that term. When Zeke is driving Daniel back to his place, Daniel is pretty much on his last nerve (doesn't really get along with brother, finds the wife too bubbly, hates his nieces and ends up going to church and lunch with them) and there's a brief spiel of thought in which Danny pretty much spews a whole list of vitriol at his brother. And immediately after he reminds himself that he doesn't actually hate his brother, that's just his aggravation with the fam speaking. We also get some mini-infodumps in (what I think) are amusing quick sentences about what the core building blocks of Danny and Zeke's DNA are.

[Permit me this brief interlude: If it were up to me, I would just let the dog come into the house muddy and leave him in the cat room (formerly my room, became my sister's when she went to college, became the cats' when she moved to Ohio) for the night. But no. I have to clean the mud off of him. He thinks the towels are a toy and immediately gets wound up the moment he sees one, and forever is trying to steal it and play tug-of-war. Some days I wish I had one of those supervillain chairs I could strap him into and just hoover the mud off or something.]

And as I said earlier finding the right balance extends to other areas. As I said in whichever physical models post in which I named who I picture Rocelyn as looking like (I think III), I'm toying with the idea of making Rocelyn Daniel's romantic interest. I may just leave it as Danny's crushing on her and can't bring himself to act on his feelings. If it becomes standalone, I think it makes for a more interesting aspect of the character. If it spawns a series, I'm free to explore the relationship aspect later. But if I do make Rocelyn and Daniel enter into a relationship, there are so many pros to that as well, both from a narrative and character standpoint. But regardless of which route I choose, planting certain seeds in both directions becomes necessary. Rocelyn is a very smiley person. She smiles instead of actually saying hello, she smiles instead of laughing (unless something is horribly funny), in fact she smiles for just about everything. It's like the guy manning the control booth in her brain accidentally set his mug down on the smile button. But at the same time, Rocelyn can't smile too much. Number one, that just comes across as lazy writing, instead of a quirk. Number two, if she smiles too much at Daniel...well, it either makes Daniel look like an idiot kid again who is totally misreading the signals (okay, this comes up validly at one point) or it pretty much only paves a road to eventual hook-up.

Again, as I said earlier, it all seems to bleed together. Everything is separate enough that is becomes incredibly easy to balance some things -- easy enough to balance some things without even trying. And everything is separate enough that it becomes difficult to balance some things.

True, every novel requires some degree of balance. Try writing a romance novel that focuses only on the main thrust of the romance with only the details of action. No sideplots, no thoughts. Just action and main narrative. Okay, you might still end up with a novel length work, but is it going to be anywhere near as good as a novel with all that other stuff? All right, from where I'm standing, I would say probably, but I am not the target demographic. I'm sure if I were to ask my girlfriend (who may in the future be referred to by name, so just to avoid confusion down the road, if you see the name Amy crop up anywhere, 99% of the time that would be who I'm talking about) she would say it would make for a better romance book.

But some things seem to require less balance. My Ian Goodenough stories -- which are throwbacks to ACD and Christie -- are pretty much just "X crime is committed or shall be committed, Goodenough investigates, Goodenough wins/villain wins". Just as the stories of ACD and Christie were. Sure, there was the occasional subplot, particularly in Christie, but it was still pretty much just the mystery. Stories such as this, on the other hand, require a much more deft hand to keep the ship on course. It's less like walking on the edge of the curb and more like unicycling on a tightrope.

This is, ultimately, one thing I have been noticing as I'm going along. Yes, I am making a conscious effort to keep everything as balanced as possible, and I doubt I will ever achieve a perfectly even scale (I doubt any novel has one), but it is the one thing I keep noticing as I go. The biggest edits I will have to make, at least from first draft to second draft, are edits for the sake of balance. Whether that be in the form of padding or cuts varies, and which of the two wins out will have to wait to be seen until the second draft is done (and the first draft isn't even done yet), but it is definitely going to be the biggest overhaul from First Clean Copy to Second Rough Copy.

And every once in a while, I offer a fleeting glance down from the high wire, and I'm forced to question just why the hell I came up here in the first place. I may have pretty good balance, but I'm an acrophobe for heaven's sakes!

P.S. Never ever accidentally type in acrophobia when you mean to type in high wire. Some wonderful photographry but holy hell did I just about shit myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment