Monday, February 4, 2013

Bourne again

A few weeks ago I decided to watch a movie while I folded laundry (there was a lot to fold). Since Spider Web desperately wants to be a thriller I decided to watch The Bourne Identity. I’ve seen it before so I wasn’t concerned about missing anything as put everything away. However, as I watched, I became far more concerned about something else – my pacing.

From the start, poor Jason Bourne can’t get a break. The second he catches his breath, something happens to send his life flying sideways again. Sometimes it was as simple as an argument or a mysterious piece of information, but usually it was someone trying to kill him. It made me realize that if my book was far to calm in the beginning chapters.

Sure, I had a Bourne-sized mystery to solve, but there wasn’t enough tension. Instead of just mentioning the nefarious forces that she’ll have to contend with, I needed to show them coming after her from the very start. After all, when one has a clever and techno-savvy foe, they need to be one step ahead of the hero/heroine. Otherwise the hero/heroine won’t be forced to perform nail-biting stunts or compromise their principles in order to survive yet another crisis. Of course, I didn’t need to rev things up to an Honor Harrington level – that would be ridiculous – but I did need to put my heroine in peril a lot sooner than I had originally planned.

The next night I used half of my writing time (hard won writing time, I might add) to restructure the first six chapters. I didn’t delete anything; I just split up a few chapters so I could take advantage of a few missed opportunities. By the time I had finished, a pair of transients had become mob thugs, a bit recon ended with an argument between allies, and a trip to the pub turned into a game of cat and mouse. For all of these I only needed to make a few small changes, but they succeed in keeping my protagonist on their toes.

As a bit of a bonus, it also added some much needed length to the first half of the story. Luckily this didn’t throw my outline out of whack because I knew that something like this was going to happen. It doesn’t matter how carefully I outline or how thoroughly I think things through. After I get into a story I always think of some cool new twist or free write a scene that makes the story ten times better and about fifty pages longer. That’s why I always under-outline. If I’m writing a 100 K novel, I’ll outline about 80K of it.

Another bonus of this is that I’m looking at later scenes with new eyes because I’ve learned that it isn’t enough to have my protagonist doing cool things in cool locations, I have to make sure that the crap hits the fan in those locations too. So for once I’m actually not grumbling about my story wanting to be something else because it was right. 

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