Monday, 15 July 2013

Placing Breaks

Not much progress since Saturday. Just enough to end a chapter and bring us to 25,402 words and 89 pages.

It was a bit rough ending that scene and chapter today, which is what I want to talk about a little tonight. Writing this book is kind of weird for me. Not because it’s super difficult or unusually structured or anything, but because the structure in unusual for me as a writer personally. I usually write first person stories and keep third person in reserve for my short fiction, and in that context there’s usually little room for multiple view-point characters and swapping between them. Sometimes it happens, but this novel just isn’t written in a way that I write very often, you know?

So, it’s all a little weird to write, but—most of all—it’s screwing with my ability to place scene and chapter breaks. There are places where it makes sense, obviously. A character goes to sleep or gets into a car for a long drive or is left sitting alone, and you break the scene. You hit a momentary cliffhanger or some other spot where you’re comfortable with the reader stopping for the night, and you break the chapter. It’s easy. Here, though, it’s…Let me give you an example:

My current chapter is this long runner of Sorkin-esque walk and talk. Sydney Bessette comes by Dow’s apartment and they walk together to the Lunar Historical Commission offices for a meeting, and then they have their meeting. Along the way, they swap updates on what they’ve learned since they last spoke. Now, all of this is shown from Sydney’s point of view for a couple of reasons. She’s more familiar with the temperament and routine of the colony, so she can more accurately make observations about how the lockdown is causing social decay—which is the whole point of the first half of the sequence. She’s also an outside observer when it comes to Dow, so it plays a little more naturally when she makes internal physical observations about him and how he’s adapting to lunar life. Everything up to going in to the meeting just plays better from her point of view and, because the whole thing is continuous, there’s not really a good place in there to break the scene and swap viewpoints.

Now, this is all well and good. The problem is that mid-meeting there’s going to be a crisis that causes Sydney to take a phone call and leave to deal with a UNPol matter, and—with her gone—the meeting is going to degrade because Dow is an ass with poor personal skills. I can’t cut away from the meeting and follow Sydney out to what she has to deal with, and everything is continuous going in…So where do I put the break? There’s not really a good spot. Putting the break where she takes the phone call seems okay on the surface, but breaking a conversation into two chapters like that plays very unnaturally on paper. In the end, all you’re doing is dropping the reader into the viewpoint of another character who has a wildly different opinion of the conversation underway, without any context for how that opinion was formed.

And if I did put the break in there, how far do I take it? Do I have the phone ring, break chapter, and then start the next from Dow’s perspective in the same moment? Do I have Sydney leave the office to take the call, show her conversation and her making the decision to leave, and then cap it off like a normal chapter? If I do that, do I start the next chapter from the moment that she takes the call? From the moment that she leaves the room? From the moment that it becomes clear that she’s not coming back? None of it feels quite right.

It’s all very frustrating.

I wrestled with that most of the day before just kind of giving up. Took a cue from film and theater and treated a set change as a scene break. The chapter ends as they enter the LHC offices, the next begins in the lobby, and everything from the lobby on is from Dow’s perspective. It was easy, even if it did mean rewriting a couple of short scenes.

It still doesn’t really feel right, though. It feels a little like settling and taking the easy route because it kind of is. There’s a certain art to placing a good chapter break—and maybe I’ll find the key to this one during editing—but today I just didn’t have the magic in me.

Oh well. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

 

-Sean

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