Plot fatigue, Tolkien, and Half-Life

I’ve been wracking my brain.

Throwing my imagination on the imaginary rack and demanded new plot points. Some readers didn’t think they got to know my MC enough. I’ve been fighting this a little haphazardly because I don’t really know what the problem is. Look for my next post on how to critique. My suspicions have been:

1. MC’s motivations aren’t clear so I need to add more backstory into the story with inner dialogue telling what means what. My next readers hated this (and so did I, though not as much until they pointed out how sappy and over emotional it made her).

2. MC needs another set of character interactions to demonstate her thought process. Basically this was #1 but done more in the present. My readers haven’t seen this, but it has been driving me bonkers! I’m purposefully inserting characters and material that do not move the plot. All they really are is window dressing to deepen the MC (a character I already thought was deep/fleshed out).

I think every writer has two parts. There’s the Storyteller who just wants to say everything that pops into his head. The guy who thinks it matters exactly what the wind and light does to the princess’s hair . . . even when it’s the girl’s POV. The other half is the Word-Crafter, he only cares about whether this conveys the essential story, whether the story is told well. The guy who says after every sentence, “What does this have to do with anything?” He’s the mental Legolas saying to the narrator, “We should not linger here.”

The latter part usually controls for me, so when I’m talking about adding characters that do not move the plot, he’s screaming at me (for days now), “Who cares?!? I don’t. You don’t. The reader won’t!”

He’s very persuasive when I’m tired and running on coffee and have a March deadline coming down on me. I was on the verge of stripping it all out and telling the readers who wanted more knowing of the MC to go fly a kite! But did this need to further the plot? I mean I’m 100+ pages in, can’t I stop and smell the roses?

“It will be boring!”

“Sometimes I like boring!”

I was watching the commentary on Half-Life 2 (one of the episodes), and they were explaining how they purposefully break the combat and even the puzzles with sequences of scenery or scripted performances because too long a sequence of any one thing becomes boring to the player. I know exactly what they meant from The Mummy Returns. I remember watching that the first time and just feeling like I needed a break from things happening.

Alisa and I often watch LOTR, but our old disk was scratched at the part with the hobbit celebration in the beginning, and we miss that even though it does not move the plot but because it’s just relaxing. After a hard day or week sometimes we would want to watch the movie, but because that scene was missing we would forgo. The scenery provides a reminder to the viewer that there is something being protected.

Is it a coinincidence that shortly before the ring does corrupt Frodo, he can no longer remember the shire or the taste of strawberries? Remembering the beauty, the sweet goodness, gives stake to the action which must happen as well as coloring the characters. But even more than simply being a plot necessity, I enjoy it. Sure, world building can get in the way of story. That’s why every writer has that wet blanket, Word-Crafter. The Storyteller makes it worth the writing; the Word-Crafter makes it worth reading.

A lot of that is expectation (old books violate this stage setting in spades, but since you expect it, it’s ok. I think it’s sad that we have lost so much of that ability to hold attention and enjoy deeper concentration.

But I do recommend parceling out the world building to what needs to be known at the moment, and not dumping it in the beginning. That’s just my expectation and many like me. Yet, once we’re on board. Once I’ve learned and enjoyed the author’s rhythm, eventually I will tire of the chase, too. Drop into cruising speed and enjoy the scenery. That metaphor really works. Bourne Identity, fight in the embassy than leisurely car ride. Terminator 2, save John, mad dash to the bike, leisurely bike trip with exposition of the situation. This even applies to Pride and Prejudice, mad scramble to save sister from heartbreak, then go for a walk or ride a horse while thinking and not thinking about Mr. Darcey.

So its okay, after you show that something is happening, to slow down and really tell them what’s at stake. There’s still going to be issues of how much scenery to give, don’t go on forever. But you don’t have to keep up the same pace all throughout.

What about you? Do you struggle with this? Was there a story where too much was happening? A story where you wished there’d been more description? One where was too much unhappenings?

PS> I did conclude (probationally) that what was missing was that Evangeline doesn’t appear to be as active. So even in the scenery-scenes I’m keeping an eye on what she wants and how she interacts to achieve the goal.

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