It’s that time of year again.
Come tomorrow, as the song goes, I’ll be leaving on a jet plane – travelling from sea unto sea to Nova Scotia for my annual Christmas sojourn home.
It’s not that I don’t want to go home or see my family. Rather, there’s just very little in this world I find more arduous than actually getting there.
I mean, to begin with: airline travel at Christmas. Airline travel is bad enough during any other time of year, fraught with such indignities as,
- Having to remove my belt (which, far from being just a fashion accessory, is actually necessary for keeping my pants up),
- Having my hair patted down for concealed weapons, and,
- The full-body “I-can-see-you-naked” X-ray scanner.
At Christmas, I get to enjoy all of the above and wait in a long-ass line for it at that, as if eagerly claiming a special prize.
So, I finally saw Pacific Rim a couple weekends ago.
I opted to give this movie a pass when it came out in July, believing it to be just another dumb summer blockbuster involving robots, a la Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise.
(I loved the original 80s Transformers cartoon, yet there’s so much to hate about those movies.)
As a reader at heart, I tend not to like most movies I watch, especially those that come out in the summer. If I watch a summer flick at all, it’s usually on video, and for the benefit of some mindless entertainment after a tough week at work.
But Pacific Rim surprisingly gave me a lot to think about, particularly with regards to its characters.
Today is my birthday.
At around 2:00am this morning, I turned officially 35 years old, thus entering, as someone at work (helpfully!) pointed out, whole new age demographic on surveys.
In my mind, though, it actually happened about six months ago, back in June.
I always make the point of pre-aging myself. This is both to smooth the transition from one year to the next and to prevent subsequently mis-aging my myself, similar to how people often continue to write the old year for months after New Year’s.
Today is also the day I’m supposed to have the draft of my novel-in-progress completed.
That, on the other hand, didn’t happen.
I’ve already decided to forgive myself for that. It was a self-imposed deadline in any case, so the only person I’m really letting down is myself. But I refuse to feel let down.
In writing, as in all aspects of life, one only gets out of it what s/he’s put in. I can honestly say I’ve put a lot of effort and heart into my WIP, and have worked away on it, if not speedily, than with dogged consistency. I’ve been no slouch, so if it’s going to take me longer than I thought to get ‘er done, well, such is life.
The only truly downside is that I’d originally planned to share my novel’s opening on my birthday.
Every story, by definition, contains suspense in one form or another.
The most common form is the Predictable-Yet-Still-Desirable (from pt. 1), wherein the reader/viewer already has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before it happens, but wants to see it anyway.
This may be either to feel the satisfaction of having been correct in his/her predictions, to see exactly how it happens, or to be already emotionally prepared to vicariously undergo a universal human experience.
Somewhat less common is a second form of suspense, which, ironically, is probably the form that more readily comes to mind when one hears the word “suspense”: the unpredictable-and-thus-unputdownable, which keeps the reader glued to the book, and still reading long after s/he should have gone to bed.
All stories by their very nature contain the precursors of this type of suspense. How could they not? Stories come to us described by blurbs designed to hint at the plot and its major turning points, but ultimately give nothing away.
They’re the very definition of suspense, for who knows what might happen between the lines of that enticing paragraph on the back of the book or DVD case?
Not all stories, however, retain that suspense.
When I was younger – perhaps being around 13 or 14 years old – I developed a fondness for military fiction.
I’m not entirely sure why this was. Even though my father spent 30+ years in the military before retiring, his preferred genres at the time were westerns and historical fiction, so I wasn’t influenced by his reading preferences.
Nor nor was I by his specific profession, for he served in the Navy, yet I was reading primarily about the activities of the Army.
I remember picking up a novel about the Vietnam War at the library. It had an eye-catching cover, and once I started reading, it wasn’t long before I was utterly absorbed.
I kind of hate November.
First of all, Movember? A very worthwhile cause, but moustaches are creepy.
And the end of Daylight Savings Time? I despise Daylight Savings Time, both the start of it and the end of it, for I find mucking with the time twice a year very jarring to my circadian rhythm.
My birthday is in November, on the Scorpio-Sagittarius cusp. I quite like my birthday but resent having my birthday month tainted by icky ‘staches and disruptions to my sleep.
And then there’s NaNoWriMo….
Unlike my fully realized feelings on Movember, DST, and my birthday, I’ve yet to work out how I feel about National Novel Writing Month.
For one thing, I’ve never done it. Nor am I doing it this year. Nor am I even sure I want to someday.
Let me re-phrase that last thought: I feel like I do want to do it someday, but I’m not sure if that’s because I relish the challenge it offers or because I feel like I should want to since it’s such a renowned event in the writing community.
Suspense, as a concept, is something I’m pretty sure all writers comprehend.
“A state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen.” (Source: Google.)
After all, most writers begin their journey as a reader, and most readers love the thrill of a story unfolding – of experiencing every reversal and triumph that befall the characters as the plot moves along its way toward an as-yet unforeseen conclusion.
True, some readers do read the very last page of the book first – perhaps to ensure the story will have a happy ending. However a last page really doesn’t convey much when taken out of context of all that comes before it, so even such a reader will be forced to weather the ebbs and flows of a storyline in the sequence in which they occur.
As a reader myself, however, it occurred to me recently that there are actually two types of suspense in storytelling. Taken in turn, each type produces the following reaction in my head:
(L-R): Nyima Funk, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?
Out of all the different types of artistic expression, the artists I seem to befriend most often are actors.
I’m not really sure why this is, for I’m sure as hell no actor. I have no poker face whatsoever, let alone the ability to re-create a given emotion at will, and body movements range from woodenly awkward to determinedly abrupt.
As well, the mechanics and semiotics of acting are largely lost upon me. I can’t really distinguish a “good” performance from a “spectacular” one, and when I watch movies or plays, so long as the story obeys its own internal logic and follows a satisfying story arc, that’s good enough for me.
I’m a writer; I’m far less interested in the performance of a story than I am in the creation of that’s story’s script.
And yet, as different as my actor friends and their art seems to be from me and mine, I’ve come to discover the usefulness one particular actor’s tool can have for writers.
That tool is improvisation.
Yes or no?
Me: I actually kind of hate it.
And unlike stories told in present tense, which I also don’t like but am willing to tolerate, I’ve definitely been known to pass over books written from multiple points of view, particularly those with the proverbial “cast of thousands” in which every character has their say
Case in point: everything after A Game of Thrones in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.
(Changing viewpoint characters isn’t the only reason I bailed on the series: Martin also has the unfortunate habit of killing off main characters with homicidal regularity. Which, it could be argued, is a further manifestation of the books’ revolving door of POVs.)
It may well be that the reason I’m not reading so many books with multiple viewpoint characters anymore is because I’ve largely given up on the genre where it’s a near-ubiquitous storytelling element: epic fantasy.
Multiple viewpoints are found in other genres as well: pretty much every genre I’ve ever read in my life (which is to say, every genre) has its contenders. Indeed, multiple POVs is probably the more common way the tell a story as compared to a single viewpoint character.
But that single, narrating character is my preference both in reading and in writing, for two main reasons:
Yes or no?
Not even a little, really.
This isn’t to say I won’t read a book if it’s narrated in present tense. Indeed, I’ve never purposely avoided reading one for that reason, and two of my favourite YA series – Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy and Beth Revis’s Across the Universe trilogy – are written in present tense.
But it’s definitely not my favourite style or writing. I definitely need to brace myself before diving into a story told in this way. I certainly have no plans to write my own present tense story anytime soon.