Pacing and Structure
After a serious surge in reading, I’ve been trying to focus more on writing over the past week or so. Result: as of last night, I’ve finally got a solid first draft of The House of Clicquot, so I can put that away for a bit and get back to the prose work of Effigy. I’ve also been doing a lot of research and drafting on my next MonsterFest entry, which isn’t due until the 24th or so, but there’s a lot of background to sphinxes. The running start has been helpful. Also, there’s the Rule of 3 blogfest (new prompts up today), and Rachael Harrie’s final challenge will be Monday, when I’m out of town but theoretically wi-fi-enabled.
Clicquot is a period thriller set at the very beginning of World War I. It’s a bit of a slow burn, with the action mild at the top and accelerating toward the end. It is action-driven, not character-driven. What this means for the writing is that the structure becomes smaller and smaller. When I wrote about Firefly, I referenced Jane Espenson’s observation that the end of an act (in this case, marked by a commercial break; in a book, marked by a chapter) should incite curiosity – what happens next?
The mystery in Clicquot gets set up pre-credit roll, the cinematic prologue, in which we meet a man named Luc who drinks the devil’s wine and grows young after killing a man, and then we follow him from the fifteenth century to the twentieth, at which point we lose his trail. Act I of the screenplay introduces James, an American veteran (served in El Caney and the Philippines), and the action slows as the mystery unfolds around him. James is the audience-window into the action. If I’ve written it well, we’re roughly as confused as he is, and progressively less so as things move along, which they do in shorter and shorter chunks.
Kiersten White’s YA-fiction Paranormalcy has chapters with pages counts in the 6-8 range, as a rule. And these aren’t big pages. I expect her word count for a chapter is maybe 1200-1500? Contrast that with the opening chapter of Rick Yancey’s YA Victorian horror The Isle of Blood, clocking in at 20-25 pages with – in my copy – physically larger space and smaller type. Subsequent chapters are closer to 10 pages or so.
Proportionally speaking, there is more action in Paranormalcy than there is in The Isle of Blood. “Action” doesn’t have to mean fight scenes – in White’s novel, a great deal of the early action is mystery-and-emotion centered as her protagonist Evie tries to figure out where she belongs and if the people she thought were her family (metaphorically) care for her the way she thought they did.
I’m trying to keep this in mind as I get back into Effigy, which is pretty sprawling. Intentionally so, but just because I mean to do it doesn’t mean it’s the right decision or that I’m necessarily going to do it well. It made sense while I was working on Clicquot, but screenwriting is different from prose.
Then again, the first order of business is just to write the damn thing.