Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Narrative Traction - Part 4: Event Based Narrative Traction



Welcome to my six-part writing series: Narrative Traction. This week is Part four: Event Based Narrative Traction.

       
Once again, what is Event Based Narrative Traction?

As I said in the second post, informational narrative traction is where you withhold information that the reader wants. Even based narrative traction is when there is something the reader/viewer wants to see happen. EG: The first kiss in a romance novel.

Again, this comes down to what the readers wants, so the first step is creating that want, and creating it strongly enough that the reader sits through your entire book to get it. As in my last post on Informational Narrative traction, I have found some examples of Event Based Narrative Traction. These were a bit trickier to find for two reasons. Firstly, because to want an event to happen, you usually have to know something about the plot, characters and setting, so it was hard to find examples that made sense and secondly, it is quite tricky to find event based examples of traction that aren't quite long. They require a lot more set up.


First up, we have 'Captive Prince' by C.S Pacat (who taught me about narrative traction in the first place!):

"I hear the King of Akielos has sent me a gift," said the young man, who was Laurent, Prince of Vere. "An Akielon grovelling on its knees. How fitting."
Around him, Damen was aware of the attention of courtiers, gathered to witness the Prince's receipt of his slave. Laurent had stopped dead the moment he had seen Damen, his face turning white as though in reaction to a slap, or an insult. Damen's view, half-truncated by the short chain at his neck, had been enough to see that. But Laurent's expression had shuttered quickly.
 That he was only one of a larger consignment of slaves was something Damen had guessed, and the murmurs from the two courtiers nearest him confirmed it, gratingly. Laurent's eyes were passing over him, as though viewing merchandise. Damen felt a muscle slide in his jaw.
Councillor Guion spoke. "He is intended as a pleasure slave, but he isn't trained. Kasor suggested that you might like to break him at your leisure."
"I'm not desperate enough that I have to soil myself with filth," Said Laurent.
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Break him on the cross. I believe that will discharge my obligation to the King of Akielos."
"Yes, Your Highness."

What is implied could happen here? What do we want to see happen? There are a few key phrases. Firstly, 'He is intended as a pleasure slave' and secondly 'Break him on the cross'. We're not sure exactly what is going to happen to Damen, but we know he is helpless, a slaved and chained up, and we know it is going to be violent. Within the context of the story, there is already a lot more going on. This scene acts to pile on several other elements of event based narrative traction, since the over-arcing plot of the trilogy is Damen's drive to get home and get revenge on his brother for usurping him and selling him as a slave to the enemy. This is an example of a secondary traction arc, to carry us over the next few chapters as we find out of Damen will be turned into a pleasure slave or whipped on the cross.


Here is another example from 'Triptych' by Karin Slaughter:

Everything Will Trent said and did grated on Michael's nerves, from his 'of course,' when Michael said he would drive to the way he stared blankly out the car window as they travelled up North Avenue toward the Homes. The GBI agent reminded him of those geeky kids in high school, the ones who kept slide rules in their breast pockets and quotes obscure lines from Monty Python. No matter how many times he watched it, Michael still didn't get Monty Python and he sure as shit didn't get geeks like Trent. There was a reason those guys got the shit beaten out of them in school. There was a reason it was guys like Michael doing the beating.

Again, this promises pending violence. We can see from the hostility Michael feels for Trent, that there is going to be some sort of conflict or climax between them—either soon, or later in the book. Michael wants to hurt Trent, not just hurt him, but bully him like he did the other geeks in school. He sees this as his right. And if you're reading Karin Slaughter, it's because you want to see these kinds of conflicts play out.


Now for something a bit lighter. From my all time favourite trilogy, 'Leviathan' by Scott Westerfeld:

Since getting on the bus with Jaspert, Deryn's skin had itched with wondering what she looked like to strangers. Could they see through her boy's slops and shorn hair? Did they really think she was a young recruit on his way to the Air Proving Grounds? Or did she look like some lassie with a few screws loose, playing dress-up in her brother's old clothes?

This tells us Deryn is a girl, dressing as a boy, to join the air force. We know, somewhere in the future, she is going to get caught and it will have serious repercussions. That is the promise being made to the reader with this set up. We want to keep reading, because we want to see how that happens and what the consequences are.


And finally, we have a snippet from 'The Blade Itself' by Joe Abercrombie:

And here it is. That horrible, beautiful, stretched out moment between stubbing your toe and feeling the hurt. How long do I have before the pain comes? How bad will it be when it does? Gasping, slack-jawed at the foot of the steps, Glokta felt a tingling of anticipation. Here it comes…

This is an example of more immediate narrative traction. Obviously, a toe stubbing can't be drawn out over a whole novel. Or even a few pages. That pain is going to hit in the next paragraph. However still we can fell that pull, that traction, driving us forward to witness the explosion of pain he is about to suffer.


I hope now you can identify event based narrative traction. Next week we are going to look at how to creative narrative traction in your own work—the nuts and bolts of it. The final post in the series will be troubleshooting and working narrative traction into your plotting and synopsis.

POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
1. What Is Narrative Traction
2. Types Of Narrative Traction
3. Infomational Narrative Traction
4. Event Based Narrative Traction
5. How To Create Narrative Traction
6. Troubleshooting, Plotting & Identifying


Also, to stay on top of updates, follow me on twitter and facebook, or subscribe to this blog (just use the widget to the right of this panel).


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Narrative Traction - Part 3: Informational Narrative Traction




Welcome to my six-part writing series: Narrative Traction. This week is Part three: Informational Narrative Traction.


Once again, what is Informational Narrative Traction?

As I said last week, informational narrative traction is where you withhold information that the reader wants. EG: Who is the serial killer in a crime thriller. This is why writers are often advised to open a book with a mystery or question a reader wants to solve and why you can often find an instance of informational narrative traction on the first page of most novels.


One of my favourite opening paragraphs is from China Mieville's short story 'Go Between'.

'Something was in the bread. Morley was cutting, and on the fourth strike of the knife, the metal braked. Behind him his friends talked over their food. Morley prised the dough apart and touched something smooth. He'd marked it with a scratch. Morley could see the things colour, a drab charcoal. He frowned. It had been a long time since this happened.'

This is informational traction. We want to know what is in the bread. We want to know more about when it has happened before. We want to keep reading, because we want to know what is going on. We have a question we want answered.

In this story, we get the answer of what is in the bread reasonably quickly. It is a message. The question then becomes how the messages get into products Morley buys, and what effect following the instructions on the message has. Are they important? Is he effecting world events? Is he working for good or evil?

You end the story with more questions hanging than answered, nonetheless it is a riveting read. You'll find most of China's body of work is good at asking questions and less good at answering them, but personally that is part of the appeal for me.

The important thing is, he presents something you want to know, then in giving you the answer (what is in the bread) he gives you are lot more questions (how did it get there and why).


To look at another example, on the first page of 'Zeroes' by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lannagan and Deborah Biancotti, we have these few lines:

'He drank some more coffee. Still crap. At least the bitter java gave him a reason to seem jumpy. Nobody would look at him and say, 'Hey, that kid is real jumpy. Must have something to do with the army green duffle bag under his feet.' Nope. Nobody would blame the bag.'

Since this is a novel, we can draw out the question a bit longer. Since Zeroes is told from the perspective of six alternating POVs, we get to meet several more characters and get introduced to their informational or event based traction before we even get to find out what is in the bag. Though, unfortunately in my ARC of the book, what is in the bag is listed clearly in the book blurb.

The Hunger Games has a similar problem, whereby one of the early informational traction items is the question 'what is the reaping'. However, the blurb clearly gives you that information before you begin reading. Which is perhaps why I found it difficult to get into the hunger games until the names were pulled from the cup and Suzanne Collins started to subvert our expectations.


And our final example, comes from the opening paragraphs of 'Day Boy' by Trent Jamieson:

'Every story should start with a fight. Fist bunched, all knuckles, blood in the mouth and laughter. Every story should start with a hand clenched around a bit of chalk, making the circle of the seven upon a front door. A door that can't be locked on any account. The sun I draw it in chalk. I draw it simply (a circle the size of my palm, the seven lines that radiate from it) in the style of the Day Boys. Big enough that there is no mistaking it. That sun means my Master is coming to see you: coming for his measure of blood. Your door will open, and he will enter, talk awhile, if the mood takes him, and then he will drink.'

This is so dense with questions, it's hard to know where to begin. It’s a fantastic opening. It tells us a little about the personality of the main character and the setting, it has a very strong voice. But it gives us so many things we want to know.

What sort of character is he that he thinks stories should start with a fight? Who are the Day Boys? Why can't doors be locked? Why is all this allowed to happen? What is the Master? What is the relationship between the Master and everyone else in the town, that they have no choice but let him in to drink, but then he might stop to talk to you before he feeds?

We know already it is a novel about violence and control, but we keep reading easily to learn more. To answer all those questions.

It's worth remembering what I said in my last post in this series: "Escalation, stakes, motives and plot are WHAT and WHY things are happening, NARRATIVE TENSION is HOW you tell the reader those things and WHEN."

In all of these examples, then 'when' is right at the start of the story or novel. However, keep in mind two things. 1) a lot of the examples are at the start because I didn't want to flick through entire novels to find good examples and 2) the start of novels don't require context to make sense, thus are better examples if you haven't read the books I am using.

The how, in the most basic sense, is just hinting to the reader there is something they don't know:

-  Something was in the bread.
- 'Hey, that kid is real jumpy. Must have something to do with the army green duffle bag under his feet.'
- That sun means my Master is coming to see you: coming for his measure of blood.

(Trent's example is subtler than the others, which is probably why Day Boy won all those awards.)


I hope now you can identify informational based narrative traction. Next week we are going to look at event based narrative traction, then in I will do an entire post on how to creative narrative traction in your own work—the nuts and bolts of it. The final post in the series will be troubleshooting and working narrative traction into your plotting and synopsis.

POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
1. What Is Narrative Traction
2. Types Of Narrative Traction
3. Infomational Narrative Traction
4. Event Based Narrative Traction
5. How To Create Narrative Traction
6. Troubleshooting, Plotting & Identifying


Also, to stay on top of updates, follow me on twitter and facebook, or subscribe to this blog (just use the widget to the right of this panel).