Wednesday, February 26, 2014

And a quarter cup of frustration...


.Childhood memories, my mother dressed for side saddle just like this but not so muddy!

Frustration.

That's a word with which most of us are very familiar. Frustration is a natural part of life. We don't always get things our way and often times it can seem that, to quote Anne Shirley quoting someone else: "'The stars in their courses plot against me.'" Frustration in real life can be horribly annoying. It can be something as small as a trip to the DMV where everyone and their brother smells of cigarettes and can't remember their middle name, to something as big as a coworker purposely framing you as the genius behind the office arguments. Okay. I haven't been the victim of the latter form of frustration, but you will probably understand the sensation.Writers always talk about adding conflict, adding tension, adding lots of negatives to a scene to make it dance. In a dreary sort of way, the more negative elements you pour on your characters, the more positive the effect. Some authors take this advice and go all out with illegitimate births, jealous half-brothers, more and more villains, twists of fate, etc. That works for many authors and I think that it is an excellent maxim to add some of those elements (and preferably many others) to your plot. What you don't always need to drag out a long-absent brother or an abbot who knows your character's dubious background to ratchet up a scene. There are subtle ways to make your character miserable. Can you guess the simplest, easiest way to add realistic conflict?

Frustrate your character.

Life hands us seemingly coincidental incidents that pile up in in our favor or against it. Play out this concept in your characters' lives and see how well it works. In the current chapter of Anon, Sir, Anon, Vivi is in a certain social setting, wanting to use this chance to observe and ask questions of the locals. If I let this scene be, it would probably fall out as a sort of dull triumph for Vivi. She'd probably get her information and move on to the next dull triumph and so on and so forth, amen. But you can't do that and expect to win friends and influence people. In the same vein, I didn't need to bring in the villain to stir the pot. He is better left till called for via the dictates of the decided plot. What I did, was construct the setting so that the room was over-crowded, noisy, and confusing, giving Vivi a silent migraine. This has nothing to do with any villain, conflict between other characters, or anything of that nature. It is very simply a natural, very frustrating occurrence. (Believe me. I get a silent migraine every time I try to go contra-dancing.) The migraine debilitates Vivi by cruelly lifting away her capacity to think, digest information, or otherwise use this very good chance to work on the murder case. A frustration. A natural one. This is the same technique filmmakers use when they add rain to a scene. There are two reasons for rain in scene: one; it frustrates the characters further, or two; it makes the mood romantic...somehow...(picturing dripping wet Mr. Darcy hair and wondering where the attraction lies). A natural frustration is going to cause your reader to, in Stephen King's words, "prickle with recognition". Why? Because your reader might not have a snarky, murderous half-brother but he probably has dealt with the hiccups in a professional interview, a distraction in a moment of concentration, locked his keys out of his car (which would foil a getaway in a genius and simple way), or experienced some other small (or major) frustration.

Make real life work for you. Most of you are coming up on two centuries (or at least a century and a half) of life experience. Some of you have lots more. Surely you could draw up a lengthy list of naturally-occurring frustrations to add to tension in your plot.


Vivi’s eyes flickered over every face one by one but there were too many people. Far too many.  A hundred grinning mouths became two hundred, two hundred smiling eyes became four-hundred. All five of her senses protested against the overload. The living heat, noise, and colors swirled in a twist of confusion. A vague, disquieting sensation of falling asleep and rising above the rest of the room filled the front of her head, and she struggled to make it back to the shore of reality. Fresh air. She wanted it as a thirsty man craves drink. She moved toward the now dark square of the doorway, flickers of alarm shooting through her chest at the idea that something might impede her freedom, or that she might stumble head-long into the crowd before she made it to the salvation of the outdoors.
-Anon, Sir, Anon