Friday, September 9, 2016

No More Talking Heads!

by Charley Daveler

The hexalogy I’m reading gave me a few epiphanies between the migraines:

I like series.

I have to admit that a part of me agrees with the naysaying of the masses in thinking series are LESS SERIOUS than stand-alones. But I always knew the snobbery was nothing more than just that, and even though I find some sequels to be written for the sole reason of money grubbing, I don’t think the judgment is founded overall.

I like the idea of following the same characters for long periods of time, and I even love how this hexaology features so many different series set in the same world. What I don’t like is when the series contradicts or alters the setting to suit its needs in subsequence story lines, which, bonus, I didn’t see a lot of in my current reading. Some sequels ruin the original, true enough. I don’t like that. At. All. But when it comes to delving deeper and deeper into the same world and characters, something appeals to me right at my core.

I haven’t written a series as of yet, unless you count Stories of the Wyrd, and writing an expansive storyline would be time consuming. Due to my dwindling rate of productivity in the last few years, I’m not sure I would be willing to commit like that unless I had a publisher and lasting fans behind me.

In the hexalogy, I find myself wanting to like it, wanting to read all of her writing set in the world, but I don’t consider the setting to be very well developed or interesting. I never picture the scenes or physics well, or ever find myself wondrous at all her allegedly wondrous items. They all seem generic magical equipment, and the few original choices don’t have a lot of clear rules and development to them.

If I were to do a series, it would have to be in a thoroughly developed setting.

I don’t like ebooks.

Burn me at the stake if you will, but I’m not saying it for the attention. When I dedicated myself to the series back at the beginning of the summer, I had zero dollars to my name to spend on books. So I went to my friendly public library to retrieve the third installment and found it sorely lacking. However, it was offered to me through their ebook program, and I checked out the next three through them.

Reading proved difficult and tedious, a chore. There were obvious, plot-related reasons for that, but something didn’t occur to me until I bit the bullet and decided to get the last story from the bookstore instead. As I started to read, I found myself comprehending more, being more excited for its beautiful cover and the thrill of having something substantial in my hands. I have been speeding through it faster than I did any of the others, and I guarantee at least some of it has to do with the medium.

Would I burn the world of Kindles? No. I don’t denounce ebooks any more than I did before, but the truth is, for me, there’s a difference between reading on a screen and on a page.

Yet, most importantly, I realized…

No more talking heads and off-screen action!

A while back I read a comment by a novelist-turned-comic writer. He and his friend set off on a new endeavor to create a graphic novel and realized within the first five scripts all they had were talking heads.

I became painfully aware of my own Talking Head Syndrome as I worked on a scene from MightyMorphin’ Canine Powers where I had to find more interesting visuals as two characters engaged in a conversation.

Then, as I read along in the hexalogy, asking myself why this didn’t interest me, I found the story itself wasn’t boring, but the way the information was being delivered was.

She had great, fantastical events that were told to us during the aftermath. The battle scenes were epic in scope, but not in magnitude. Explained from the perspective of the main characters (who wouldn’t die) fighting “fodder,” the destruction and stakes in war and battle didn’t cause impact. The loss was discussed, but seemed distance—it happened to them not us. Many times someone would appear to detail the events to the protagonists, or the protagonists themselves would come rushing in to state what had occurred while the reader was away.

Most of the hexalogy sits in calm moments, plot points interspersed with daily teenage drama, except the sort is handled well and maturely with no questioning of morality or toxic relationships. Good and evil are concretely separated, and all of the myriad of “good guys” react in appropriate, non-petty ways. On the rare occasion they do make a mistake, it is tailored to be forgivable, and they never have to face the ramifications of their betrayal permanently. The scene of forgiveness comes with a whimper and not a bang—they discuss their feelings logically and are reunited without having to embarrass themselves.

I’m finishing up a manuscript started and abandoned back in 2014. The end is nigh—hopefully I only have 10-20,000 more words, and if I work on it daily, draft one should be complete weeks before I move in October.

Upon picking up the last book in the hexalogy, I adamantly decided, “No more talking heads.” All major events should be revealed with trumpets, happiness should be rife with humor and envy-inducing bonding, and any calm moments should be quick and to the point. Scenes should change things between each of the characters—for the better or for the worse—and the effects of what came before still visible as the plot goes on. That was my goal.

Then I picked up the manuscript I had put aside for a while and found myself right in the middle of… talking heads.

I could try to artificially insert an event or an emotional reaction, spinning what I had planned for the oncoming scenes to something new, but I decided, instead, being so close to the conclusion—the penultimate moment—I would finish up the conversation as is and wait until draft two to consider what to do about it.

Talking heads are easy. Discussion is controlled by the characters; conversation propels the scene forward. One reaction begets another, and even if you don’t know where the scene is going, the natural agency of words will force it to continue on. Events tend to happen to characters, and it’s hard for the author to allow a character to do something the writer knows what end well, something that will cause the conflict we all avoid in life.

So, talking heads.

This is why people want you to outline. It is easier to avoid a scene of sheer discussion when you already know what’s going to happen, though sheer discussion can help things occur organically.

In any case, I shut my characters up after what was important was said, pushing them to arrive at the castle where the final scene will take place. It helped me transition, and I assume that while I’ll have to change it in the first round of revision, talking heads, it seems, can help in understanding what the book is about.

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