Meeting Ten – The Montage
We’ve all see the montage moment in movies. Our hero needs to spend a year training his hands into lethal weapons. A film will show a minute filled with five-second clips of the protagonist jumping, punching, kicking, and running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. All this happens while inspiring music plays in the background.
Too often I see authors attempting the same thing in a written format, and it doesn’t work. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s the lack of music. In the past few months, I’ve seen several examples of inexperienced writers who want to show a passage of time by giving little one paragraph snippets of things that have happened to the character. These aren’t major events in the character’s timeline, and they don’t cause a big change in his/her view of the world. So we just get a bunch of facts that are best left out of the story.
Here’s where we tread the line between show vs tell. If we take a character who needs to spend four years in college in order for their role in the story to make sense in a later part of the book, we can do one of three things. (There’s probably more ways to do this, but I’m going to stick to three examples.)
One: We can dedicate a full chapter to each year of the student’s life. The events that we show are going to mean something to the plot. They will show the character developing a certain trait or changing their mind about something. Maybe they will meet someone who will irrevocably change their future.
Two: We can show a couple of random scenes during the college years on one brief page and move on.
Three: We simply state – Tom went to college and got his engineering degree.
Example one would be how we show the events happening. Example three is simply telling. Example two is the one I hate. Even though example three is strictly telling, it’s one simple line. The reader now knows time has passed, and the character did something with that time, but there was nothing important you need to know about it. I don’t have a problem with that.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been focusing on story structure so much these days, but example two makes me feel like I’ve wasted my time. The author has tossed in some filler material with information I didn’t need. Nothing in the plot has changed. The character didn’t have a life changing moment. It was only a couple of scenes which did nothing more than show the passage of time.
My WIP takes place over a twenty-year time span, and there are seven major characters. I can’t show every event that’s happening during the story. Several of my chapters have a couple of years pass since the last time the reader has seen the character. I obviously can’t pack everything into a single sentence either. When these jumps happen, I start the chapter with a single paragraph that tells the reader (subtly) how much time has passed and what major event has occurred. It would be silly of me to dedicate half the chapter to several scenes showing the intervening time. And yet, I’ve seen people try to do that very thing. Knock it off.
If the subject isn’t important enough for you to write a full chapter about it, then maybe it should be skipped. Or change it so that the scene is important and you can write more about it. Less scenes – More quality to the scenes you have please.
Okay, I kinda thought that rant would take up more space than it did. I’m going to combine in another topic. The short story.
I’m currently writing a short story for a contest. I think one of the judges reads my blog (Hi Gemma) so I can’t be real specific since the entries are anonymous. This week I brought my short story to the group for a change of pace and to get some feedback.
The response I got was mostly positive. They thought is was a nice, and somewhat touching story. However, one of the members felt that it started off too slow and there needed to be a bigger hook at the beginning. I thought there was one, even if it’s only an emotional hook and not some big dramatic action. He suggested that I look into the O’Henry short story format.
When I got home, I pulled out my trusty laptop and did some Googling. Somewhere I remember running across an article about a tried and true pulp fiction format that some authors followed back in the 1930’s. I assume that’s what he meant. Google gave me references to O’Henry the famous short story author, but I couldn’t find a specific format attributed to him. There were several articles which explained short story formats those old pulp fictions used. I read through a couple of those yesterday.
From what I’ve gathered, the basic format is to break your story into four sections.
1 – Give the main character some trouble.
2 – Give them a double dose of trouble.
3 – Heap on so much more trouble that there’s no way they’re getting out of it.
4 – Get them out of it or resolve it in some manner.
The way my story is currently written, it won’t quite work in that format without me rewriting the whole piece. My story follows more along the lines of:
1 – Scene setting and explanation of character’s situation.
2 – Trouble.
3 – Interesting event that may or may not be more trouble.
4 – Some resolution of first trouble with emotional impact (I hope.)
5 – A little more trouble.
6 – Resolution.
I agree with the critique about the beginning being a little slow. I may have to change it to some exciting action. The problem I have is that the whole story is only allowed to be 7500 words. The contest is to celebrate the tenth anniversary of a writing website. The theme or writing prompt they gave us was – Ten. So in my stupidity, I somehow got it stuck in my head that the story was to be 10,000 words. I was up to 8500 words without an ending when I found out my mistake. This caused me to cut several items out of the story I liked. The dancing bologna was my favorite.
All of this loosely ties back to the beginning of this article. I only have a limited amount of space. I refuse to show little sections just to fill in events showing the characters interacting together but time must pass. I’d rather have fewer scenes that have more substance.
There was one particular activity the characters were doing that my critique group wanted me to explain better. I simply don’t have space. It’s either cut the scene or leave it less detailed. Since the activity isn’t important, only the conversation happening at the time, it’s going to stay the way it is.
I’ll probably end up posting the story on this site after the contest if you’d like to come back in about a month or two and look. Unless it wins. In which case you’ll be able to find it on Amazon for only $49.99. Don’t worry, for that price I’ll sign a copy for you.