Thursday, May 06, 2010

Work in Progress

I’ve been involved in an interesting writing experiment recently. Let me asplain.

Sometimes it’s helpful to describe your book using similar titles. So you might say, “This book is Gone With the Wind meets Harry Potter.” Sounds like a winner, right?

Well, if I had to explain my latest work in progress it would be 12 Angry Men meets World War Z. If you haven’t seen the movie 12 Angry Men before, then you need to stop reading this post right now. Well, not right now, because then you won’t know what to do. Here is what you should do. Go to Netflix, sign up for Netflix, rent 12 Angry Men, wait by your mailbox until it arrives, and then watch it. It’s such a great movie I’ll have to devote an entire post to it sometime.

World War Z is also a good book. It’s a book about a zombie apocalypse, and while my book doesn't have any zombies, it does have a similar way of telling the story. In World War Z instead of a protagonist or a rowdy but lovable group of sidekicks who stick together and sooner or later come in possession of an axe (there are ALWAYS axes in zombie books), the book reads like an NPR radio program. It is a series of interviews with people who survived the event. Each one tells their story, and by the end you undertand what happened holistically, not just to a group of people. It’s a very interesting way to tell a story.

So going back to my writing experiment, the general plot is a catastrophic event has occurred and anything electrical has been fried. Cars, computer, TVs—none of it works anymore. There is no way to ship goods, no way to communicate with other people, and society begins to fall apart. But before that happens, a group of 800 people leave Utah in an old fashioned wagon train, headed east.

However, I'm not telling the story in the usual way; I’m presenting it as a transcript of a court trial. The trial happens after the wagon train arrives at their destination. One member of the train committed a grievous crime against another, and as witnesses are called to testify, the story unfolds to the reader. The events of the trek are built through the testimony of the various members of the wagon train.

I call it an experiment because I don’t know if it will work. Since it’s a court transcript, the entire 17,000 words so far are 100% dialogue. There is not ‘he said’, or ‘she gazed out over the prairie’ anywhere in the book. This brings up an interesting dilema with regards to "show don't tell".

Show don't tell is something most authors are familiar with. Usually telling is bad and showing is good. This is an example of telling:

“You’re an idiot,” he said, angrily.

I’m telling you that the character is angry, but it’s not a good way to write. Sure, you know he’s mad, but there is a better way. Perhaps something like this:

John gripped the back of the chair until his fingernails dug into the hard wood. He could feel the blood rushing to his face.

“You’re an idiot,” he said.

It’s much better to show. However, what do you do when all you have to work with is dialogue, I can’t do either method! I can’t even say that somebody is mad, I have to show emotion simply through the dialogue itself.

I don't know if I can pull it off, but if nothing else it's been very good practice. I've been forced to really try to inject emtion into dialogue.

1 comment:

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