Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sequence and emotion

Another post about why sequence is essential:

The conflict of the earlier scene guides the emotion of the next scene. The reader will assume (rightly, of course) that the first event will have some effect on the characters, and that they will show that effect, even if they try to hide it, in the immediately succeeding scene.

So if we have, say, Tony discovering that the mole has to be in his own department in Chapter 12, then the romantic interlude in Chapter 13 isn't going to be just playful and flirtatious, as it might have been earlier. He is going to be preoccupied with this dilemma, and perhaps this has made him wonder who else is betraying him. So while he might try to participate in her playful flirtation, the dark distrusting mood will out. He might suddenly demand what she meant by some flirtatious line, or lose focus. And she will notice, and become more hesitant, wary of giving offense. Or maybe he'll be even more flirtatious than ever, but with a hard edge that says something's changed.

At any rate, what might have been just an interlude in, say, Chapter 8, becomes a development of emotional complexity in the aftermath of the event. So even if we have something that -has to happen- right here that doesn't directly descend from the Big Event, there's going to be emotional residue, and if we want the readers to believe in these characters, we have to show them plausibly affected by the events we put them through.

So maybe Beth has to go to work in the morning and pretend she doesn't know what she just found out. Or maybe Lionel has to drop his kids off at school and not say a word about being laid off. But no matter what, if this scene happens after they experience an event, they will show some (however subtle) effect of that event in their emotion, their interaction, their dialogue.

It always helps me to -- before I write the second scene-- imagine myself in the character's body after The Big Event, and let the feeling wash through me. Then I know when I write his flirtation, the harder edge will come out; that when I show her chatting with her colleagues, she might lose focus on what they're saying. Everything in the scene might be the same in terms of what happens, but how the character feels and acts within the scene will be different.

So think of a scene sequence you have, where there's some big troubling event. How are you showing the "residue" in the immediate next scene?



Jessica Silva said...

Oh, what a good topic! I sometimes have this problem because I write each scene separately, and sometimes out of order. It's hard to know how my MC will come out of the scene before it if I haven't written it (because she usually surprises me).

I've found that my first draft always lacks real emotional involvement. So my big task in my first edit is to thread her emotion through each scene and make sure it actually connects, without hitch or knot, to the next scene.

The best example I can come up with (and maybe it's a horrible one!) is a memory she had while revisiting her hometown. She could've picked a happy memory, but because of what's going on, the first thing that comes to her mind is the funeral of grandparents she hardly knew.

Jordan said...

I write things in sequence, and I still have this problem! (Admittedly, when I add something in later, it's even harder.)

I think this is a great way to tie in the various plot threads, as in a romantic suspense, like your example.

Awesome post!

Jordan said...

Oh, and an example of residue (which I had to add in, since the precipitating event wasn't in the original draft): my hero, a LEO, witnesses a murder and can't stop it without wrecking the larger case.

In his next encounter with the antagonist/murder, he already had a hard edge, but I was able to add an undercurrent of fear. I think it upped the suspense in the whole book.

The murder has reverberations throughout the text—it makes the hero more determined, shows the stakes, but most of all, the hero regrets that he couldn't do anything (hence the reaffirmed determination).

Again, it's something I'm always working on. I keep thinking I'll get to a point where these things aren't quite so much work—basically where I won't need a "rough" draft, just a "first" one. Yeah, right.

Edittorrent said...

Jordan, that's good for what I call, "a jolt of motivation." When motivation has to be renewed, when the character's will to succeed is flagging, something like that will help him redouble his efforts.

Jessica, that's a good point, that the process of resequencing can help link the emotion to the scenes. Hmm.

green_knight said...

Alicia, this post is one of the reasons why I no longer attempt to write out of order. By the time my characters get to the event they will have changed, which makes the scene-as-written impossible - the _events_ might be the same, but the meaning will not be.

If I need to fix a scene that's attacking me, I try to write it as sketchily as possible, so the wrong words won't get into the way of redrafting.

Jenny Maloney said...

I can't remember where I read it, but it's along the lines of this post. Basically, the comment was about revision and that if someone has a problem with your ending, then something went wrong at the beginning. So, like the sequence affects what follows, it can stretch all the way through to the end if there's a problem.

Kiara said...

Very nice subject, Alicia.

You're exactly right for the way sequence is important in creating a sense of realism for the reader -it's almost as big an error as a plot hole. A novel has to flow, but it also has to relate to the readers.

I would never write not in sequence, as I'd find too much trouble keeping the continuity and pace of the story believable. Your advice about stepping into the character's shoes is brilliant. I write in first person perspective, so even if I am in someway experiencing the same reality as the character, it's so easy to merge into 'writer mode', and lose the credibility of the text in exchange for a massive plot twist or focused language.

If I have a scene in which something major has happened, I either jump straight into the next sequence and keep that same raw emotion, or leave the characters with time to cool, yet still thinking about the event. I try to make sure no event is ever forgotten. In reality, forgive and forget is a rule rarely used. I wouldn't expect anything different from my own characters.

Edittorrent said...

Kiara, would you show the character "cooling," thinking about the event?

I can also see though jumping forward in time, and it seems like they're not thinking about it, but there's some hint of trouble in their POV.