Turning Up the Heat

I suppose you could call it a competition of sorts. My daughter in one room, plugging in dead matter from Ferman’s Devils into the new version of Handling It, me in the next room gearing up to work on And/News again. As I mentioned, I should work on the bonus material, but the short story should be about ready to do with one more pass through (hmmm, excuse me while I make a hard copy so I can make sure), and I’ve been making notes for the essay since I started reformatting work. I’ll need to go through the manuscript one final time when all the changes are in, so my plans are to do the essay as the last thing.

Since I was too busy for much else Saturday, part of tonight was used in catching up on my Saturday routine of answering e-mail. Didn’t get it all done, but at least some of it is out of the way. And I’m behind on bagging up books to mail out as well. Well, a few more days for those.

Then into the manuscript. I wasn’t quite where I thought I was – I thought I had left Richard and K on the road to Phoenix, but I see today that they have actually made it there, and are now in the process of arguing about their accommodations. I am seeing an interesting dynamic develop between the two of them with the addition of Vic and Ray to the party. I thought the couple from Indiana would bring my two protagonists closer together, but instead they seem to be tearing them apart.

But that’s good.

I have oft repeated, perhaps even in these pages, that the job of a novelist is to make things difficult for his protagonist. Great care must be taken to beat them up (literally and/or figuratively) and frustrate them at every possible turn. A great example of this is the last chapter of A Death of Honor. I had reached a point in the book where everything was tied up and more or less resolved, and all that remained was for Payne and Trinina to get on the ship to Australia with their son, Nathan.

After writing the final confrontation scene with the villain and putting one final twist into the plot, I stopped writing and said to myself, “Okay, time for everyone to get on the boat.”

I could feel my brow furrow. The next thing I said was, “but if they do that, it’ll be boring.”

I thought about it for a few minutes and it came to me what to do. Payne’s paper that was to get him on the ship was invalidated for some reason (hey, I finished that book in ’84 and it was published in ’87… you’ll forgive me if I can’t recall the exact details), so he made the sacrifice of putting Trinina and the boy on with the idea of staying behind. What followed next was what I affectionately call Payne’s leap – he watches the boat pull away, and he suddenly runs down the boarding platform and jumps for it. But he doesn’t quite make it, and ends up hanging outside of the boat by the rail. And then a guy with a club shows up and starts in on his hand and… well, you get the idea.

Keeping the audience hooked means constantly raising the stakes, and that’s what I did at the end of ADoH. A cinematic example of this is the work of director James Cameron, whose films are never over when you think they’re over. There’s always one more surprise waiting at the end of the reel. Most of the time this works – think Aliens and True Lies. Once in a while it backfires, as in The Abyss, which I felt had about three surprises too many.

Anyway, the routine is back and it feels good to be falling back into it – even if it was interrupted by puppy patrol.

NP – iTSP (Evita Motion Picture Soundtrack – “Rainbow Tour”)


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