I’ve been consistently running into problems with big battle scenes; in part, I think, because picturing a lot of objects moving through space is one of the things my brain absolutely hates. The only way I’ve gotten through them is by gritting my teeth and making rough outlines of “and then what happens”. Which in turn tend to get broken down into finer outlines of “and then x, then y, Z interferes…” and so on, as I try to hack at each part. It is tedious as heck, but it seems to work.
Still, tedious. So I thought I’d pick up a book on outlining – specifically, Outlining Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland. Just to see if there were better ways to do it.
I can’t give a full review on the book right now; I’ve only read about through page 88. But I’ve run into a spot that tromps on my bunnies’ toes, and they are scowling, so I thought I’d share my efforts to pin down exactly why.
In short, part of what Weiland states as “fact” is that the whole book should be about conflict and frustrating your characters to the very end. Anything else is “shallow escapism.”
…As Tolkien put it, the only people who have problems with escapism are jailors.
But I actually have two other points that make me say this must not be so. One is pure psych research. You’ve probably heard the story: people researching what makes horror movies effective make people watch horrible bit after horrible bit, and record their reactions. And the researchers found that past a certain point of horror, the viewers just started laughing. It wasn’t real anymore.
The only way to make horror movies effective, in short, is to give the characters – and the viewers – a break from constant horror. Quiet pauses. Even moments of happiness. Without those to contrast with, unending horror just makes your brain check out.
And IMHO, unending stress works the same way. If your character doesn’t get a few “wins” in the story, even of the “yes! I managed to scrabble my way up the impossible cliff, breathe, wipe off the blood…. Oh. Zombies. Yay.”
Without that pause, that win, your character is going to take to drink or shoot themselves. And that’s a lousy story.
My second reason has to do with something I read on another blog years ago – “two square inches of sunlight”. The gist of it was that fanfiction has something in common with the best novels; a writer can take a moment from painting the whole world to examine something small, maybe even mundane, and make it something the reader can dig into and soak up, warm and happy and wonderful.
We’ve got enough horror and conflict in the world; just check out the evening news. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy – or wanting to see characters happy.
So as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to take this writer’s advice with a bushel of salt. Because characters deserve some during-the-story wins. And so do the readers. Reading is life – and who wants your life to be an unending series of conflicts until the last scene? Meh. Boring.
Now, back to the undead hordes attacking the Halloween betrothal party….