Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sexy Information Feed

I touched on the technique I have dubbed Information Feed last week:


So it's possible some writers may be trying to dissect their expository lumps into a linear information feed stream that's also dramatic, gripping, suspenseful and explicates their theme. At the beginning of a project, the theme is not usually even known, which is why dissecting lumps is part of the rewrite process. You may not know which parts of a lump you need until you've at least drafted an ending.

Here are a few more clues to the Information Feed technique and how to apply it.

So imagine (yeah, real hard, I know) you have created an entire universe in your mind filled with characters in love and angst all jumping up and down to get their OWN stories told.

My students know that the first thing I will pound on them for is choosing the wrong protagonist, someone whose story is not being told just now, a bystander not even as involved as Doctor Watson in Holmes's investigations.

One reason a writer produces expository lumps at the opening of a story is simply that they've chosen the wrong viewpoint character. The real story is happening offstage, and so lump by lump, the writer tries to tell that gripping real story from the point of view of "nothing happening."

The following technique will probably not help you discover which character your story is actually about. But it might break the logjam and let you begin investigating your universe to discover where the stories are happening.

So here's how to take your well and thoroughly imagined Universe where the reader has to know ALL THIS STUFF before they can understand the story -- and straighten it out into a linear sequence of information bits that are fun to learn instead of lumps to swallow.

You have to play a trick on yourself.

Pretend your imagined universe is real, that you've just been there and all this really nifty stuff happened to YOU - not to a character in the story, but to YOU (you might be a character in the story, but that might lead to writing a Mary-Sue.)

Remember one of the most seductive traps for a beginning writer is to try to tell the story from First Person when it's not appropriate. That's why it's good to be your-real-life-self explaining where you've been and why you have a black eye rather than being a character in the story. You can recount the story as if telling about a new favorite TV show. You want to hook them, but don't want to reveal "spoilers."

And that's what "expository lumps" are mostly composed of - spoilers - stuff you gotta know but not NOW.

So, here you are in front of your parents, your landlord, your boyfriend, maybe the police, an insurance adjuster, a private eye you have to hire or your least favorite clergy authority figure.

You don't want to confess. You don't want to admit you've been wandering around inside a TV show, inside someone else's business. You really don't want them to know how seriously sexy this whole thing is!

This is so awful. This is so embarrassing. This is private stuff. It's top secret. If you tell them, you'll have to kill them. Or they'll think you're crazy.

But there you are, evidence dripping from your hands, peeping from under your skirts, bulging out of your pockets.

They start asking questions, and you must come up with something to say -- even if it's not an explanation. Even if it's a lie. You want the respect of these authorities, but the questions keep coming and you have to say something. What to say first that will kind of "break it gently" that you've been seduced. Or done some heavy duty seducing and pried a really hot story out of someone they'd never let you associate with.

"So why didn't you do your homework last night?" "Where did you get that black eye?" "When are you going to fork over last month's rent?" "So who's the father this time?" "Why is there a puppy peeking out of your coat pocket?"

So the interrogation of you begins, and you have to say something. Some bit has to come first -- something has to be kinda "interred at the foot of a sand dune" and hidden to the end where it'll be a surprise, a twist, a shock, a hook for a sequel (I mean, who has sex just once if it's really great sex?)

Lump-dissection is all about building SUSPENSE. And the main technique is what Linnea Sinclair called being a "puzzler" rather than a "plotter" or "pantser" as a writer.

Meaning, do you plot out every event before you write, or do you fly by the seat of your pants, or do you ferret out the ending by solving some puzzle you start with and don't know the answer to.

All that is from the writer's point of view. And it really doesn't matter how the writer does it. It only matters that the reader can't TELL how the writer did it.

Every good novel contains (after rewriting) a firm plot-sequence, a because-line, and the kind of surprising and delightful details that a "pantser" will create on the fly, PLUS a good, hard puzzle for the reader to solve. The best way to achieve all that is to do 3 drafts, one as each of the 3 kinds of writers.

When you're breaking expository lumps, it is most effective to be a "puzzler" -- and unwind the lump into a trail of bread-crumbs as clues to the big revelation. The way to figure out which bit of the lump is a bread-crumb and which a big revelation is to present yourself before your imaginary authority figure for interrogation.

So answer the question about your condition after this adventure in your universe.

"Well, it isn't actually a puppy. It's a baby turus."

"A baby what?"

"I'm not totally sure it's a baby."

Examining the creature. "Where in the world did that thing come from?"

"I found it in a crashed space ship."

This completely omits mention of the tall-dark-handsome-almost-human Guy you pulled from the ship just before it exploded which is how you got the black eye.

Shouts of laughter and the interrogator reaches out to remove the puppy's pasted-on costume and find out what breed the dog is. The costume doesn't come off. The ears are real.

"It's a mutant something. How do you know it's a turus?"

"This guy told me." or "The Turus told me." Or "The dying mother Turus told me."

"We better call animal control."

"No!" Now you have to come up with a reason NOT to call animal control.

Do you see how an impenetrable ball of wax can become a linear string of data under interrogation?

ASKING QUESTIONS is the key to dissecting an expository lump, and discovering what goes now and what goes later, what's a bread-crumb and what's the payload at the end of the trail.

As I noted in the discussion of the Expository Lump, what goes first and what goes second is a function of WHAT THE READER IS ASKING.

Your reader can be your interrogator, and you have to satisfy that curiosity while not giving away the whole ball of wax.

As with most structural issues that arise while crafting a piece of fiction, the Expository Lump yields to a systematic questioning.

You just have to know what the questions are, and to find out you have to go adventuring in your universe - and figure out "who" will confront you with questions on your return.

In the writer's mind, the reader is an Authority Figure -- skeptical, wary, unconvinced, and with the power over you of NOT BUYING this book.

Now, don't let that intimidate you, and don't let the rule against expository lumps choke you up.

You don't want to prevent yourself from passing a Lump. You'll only give yourself writer's block doing that. In fact, most writer's block cases are just cases of rampant perfectionism, or sometimes not having the confidence to say what you want to say. So nevermind -- spit it out! Just splosh it onto the page.

In rewriting, remember that nothing is permanently gone. Delete something here, you can put it in over there. But to make this technique pay off, you have to have something to delete. So write those lumps! Then handle them as if undressing a sex partner.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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