Lopsidedness

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Thread: Lopsidedness

  1. #1

    Lopsidedness

    Has anybody here ever written a lopsided book?

    I am speaking of those novels that have electrifying starts. Ones where the entire first third, sometimes the first half, is a real page turner. The set up is just great. The characters seem to be in a fantastic natural habitat, there's some real chemistry that all leads up to this crucial moment of drama. This moment is fantastic, too. Gripping. It isthe bullet at the feast, the moment of madness, the water ski jump over the shark., the place where the plot is supposed to turn and lead into the glide slope towards an ending climax and then...

    ...the second half is just kind of okay.

    By that I do not mean bad nor even dull. Only that in all my years writing I have yet to write a story that both started AND ended brilliantly. So usually I will go with a "slow boil": Opening chapters that lay foundations but which are intentionally slow and vanilla. I do it this way around in order to tighten the screws. To raise the temperature steadily in a more or less continuous escalation. Basically it is the old VC Andrews model: Start the story with a delightful yet fairly dull newly-fatherless family going to stay at a grandmothers house and eventually end with poison and violence and sodomy and mayhem.

    I think those kinds of stories are, by and large, relatively easy for anybody to write. There is also nothing wrong with doing it that way (although I do rather wish I could have back the hours I spent reading VC to be honest) but it isn't a formula that works every time. My work in progress has a plot where a really terrible, devastating event occurs. This happens about a quarter of the way through (with the story prior all lead up to that event) and as a result of what transpires there is one survivor. This survivor then has to spend the rest of the story making sense of and, eventually, making right what happened.

    The problem is that this Devastating Event is so bloody terrible, so insane, so emotionally draining (at least for me) that it kind of steals the thunder of the rest of the book. I actually anticipated this ahead of time and deliberately made sure there was plenty to come after it. I worked really hard to make sure there is a defined purpose that the Devastating Event triggered. It is a fascinating one actually, I think, and it is packed with action that is relevant. Certainly it is not all navel gazing. It's just that the first part was so damn powerful I still, despite efforts, feel the second half is more a kind of epilogue to that event. It rather feels at times like I started a story about the Titanic with the ship already almost sunk. How do you make a novel focused on aftermath of tragedy not feel like, well, just another aftermath of tragedy?

    Anybody else have any experiences like this? How did you like the end product? How was it received? Any thoughts on how to write about major events early in a novel and avoid fatigue in the rest of the story?
    Last edited by luckyscars; August 12th, 2018 at 07:17 AM.
    "All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened."

    Ernest Hemingway



  2. #2
    If a story hits the dramatic, emotional peak early, then the story needs to change gears and start working in a different way besides drawing big emotions from readers, because you can't compete with what came before. You could instead seek to stimulate the reader's intellect as well, For instance, with the Titanic example, post sinking, it could turn into a courtroom drama, like A Few Good Men. Or for a made up tragedy especially, there could be clues and a mystery about who's responsible, and conspiracy theories and so on.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    How do you make a novel focused on aftermath of tragedy not feel like, well, just another aftermath of tragedy?
    One approach is to make the stakes get even higher as the novel goes along (or the options feel more dire).

    So, if the Titanic sinks in the first part of the book, then the character struggles with survival from there on out. Sharks, dehydration, the cold ... (Life of Pi comes to mind, where the ship sinks after the setup, and the boy is stranded on a raft, in the middle of the ocean, with a ferocious tiger). Cast Away also falls into this sort of category.

    If the spaceship explodes in the beginning, then the character has to figure out how survive alone in space. (The film Gravity is an example.)

    If the building collapses, then the character has to find his wife in the ensuing chaosóand avoid capture by terrorists, and avoid authorities who've issued a mandatory quarantine for the area, and deal with an injury that's becoming an infection, and, and, and ...

    I suppose one could argue that the stakes could always be raised, as long as there's forward progress to be made, and as long as the character has something that they're striving for.

  4. #4
    I am reminded of the film Sully, the true story about the airliner that landed in the Hudson without any of the people on board perishing. The action drama all occurred at the beginning of the film and the majority of it was about the aftermath and the investigation into whether the pilot had done the right thing or not.

    I won't go into any great detail about my strange sole novel as that was something like a carousel (which was actually described in chapter two as the story was perpetually self-referential), going round and round and up and down. It really didn't matter much where the reader got on board and my biggest problem wasn't writing the story but deciding the order of the chapters. I started the first full draft of the novel with the words "THE END", which may give a clue about my solution. Actually it was really a warning to the reader not to read any further, i.e. not to read the story at all, but some readers didn't get the message and kept going.

    Novice writers are told how important the opening to a story is and how they should work on that to entice the reader in, but I consider that dishonest if the writer can't sustain the quality and pace of their writing throughout. My advice, if I were considered experienced enough to offer any, would be to write every page as though it were the opening one so that the reader never feels that they can or should stop reading. (One beta reader reading my novel actually wrote to me "Thank heavens for chapters," or words to that effect.)

    As for the climax of a story, I'd suggest that similar advice holds good, which is why many of my chapters read like short stories in their own right and the main story rolls along like a roller-coaster. Does a reader really want a story with a beginning, middle and end or one that could potentially go on forever? Halfway through my original novel it reached the point where they should have all lived happily ever after, but in the second half the story slid downhill as the problems in doing just that sank in. In a way I followed the pattern of such stories as the old ones about King Arthur and Robin Hood although mine did have that essential final twist ... hope.

    P.S.
    Someone very experienced in the field of literature told me that perhaps the one serious thing that Oscar Wilde said was that a story was only worth reading at all if it was worth reading more than once. Actually I think he was joking even then as one wouldn't know until one had read the story once whether it had been worth reading at all. Anyway, when I wrote my novel I decided to meet that challenge and the ideal way to do that was not to reveal what the story had really been about until the very end so that the reader was enticed to read it again in the light of this new information.

    My experienced friend did read the entire story and then he very kindly went through it a second time to annotate it with his comments. He told me that when he did this he realised that I had met Wilde's requirement because on a second reading he saw things that he had overlooked the first time through. or perhaps couldn't have seen without having read it before. Maybe then the ending of a story should simply be the reason to start reading it, not a climax as such at all but merely a revelation.
    Last edited by JustRob; August 12th, 2018 at 04:32 PM.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  5. #5
    It sounds like not enough story for a novel. The climax should not occur at the halfway point.

    A dragging beginning runs the risk of losing readers before anything of consequence happens.

    I suggest finding ways to keep the story going before the climax, but after the sizzling start.

  6. #6
    Hi LS,
    this not something I had considered. It is something to keep in mind for the future. Thank you
    Good luck
    BC

  7. #7
    It's hard to throw comments at a vague problem. But I suspect a common solution is to make some reason why the main character has to survive, or why civilization has to come back on line. A comet is coming. A young child needs to be saved. Only the main characters knows how to prevent this disaster from happening again. Then there's more interest in the aftermath of the disaster, in addition to whatever you already have.

    Good luck. It makes me anxious to hear about unfinished books with great starts, I have had some recent bad experiences with those.

  8. #8
    Thank you for all of the replies! All have been helpful in varying ways...

    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    I am reminded of the film Sully, the true story about the airliner that landed in the Hudson without any of the people on board perishing. The action drama all occurred at the beginning of the film and the majority of it was about the aftermath and the investigation into whether the pilot had done the right thing or not.

    I won't go into any great detail about my strange sole novel as that was something like a carousel (which was actually described in chapter two as the story was perpetually self-referential), going round and round and up and down. It really didn't matter much where the reader got on board and my biggest problem wasn't writing the story but deciding the order of the chapters. I started the first full draft of the novel with the words "THE END", which may give a clue about my solution. Actually it was really a warning to the reader not to read any further, i.e. not to read the story at all, but some readers didn't get the message and kept going.

    Novice writers are told how important the opening to a story is and how they should work on that to entice the reader in, but I consider that dishonest if the writer can't sustain the quality and pace of their writing throughout. .
    I didnít catch ďSullyĒ but I am familiar with the plot and while Iím not totally sure of the timings it sounds pretty close to what I am referring to. Iím torn about the idea of it because I suspect most of those who saw Scully really were mainly interested in the event, less so in the man, even less so in a protracted legal dispute. I recall it being well received, though part of me wonders if it would have been better received as a kind of conventional Hollywood disaster movie with the usual hero worship, if you know what I mean?This is similar, though not exactly the same, as my predicament. I guess my main takeaway is that in the case of Scully the plot can be lopsided if one regards it as a single genre (action). As Annoying Kid mentioned with his ďchanging gearsĒ comment the solution is to essentially change the genre for the remainder of the movie - less action, more drama.

    I slightly take issue with your use of the word ďdishonestyĒ in this context. I do get what youíre saying but I donít think itís a question of honesty at all. Most books donít ďsustain the quality and paceĒ throughout. Pace particularly is something that shouldnít be kept the same lest it becomes exhausting! As I mentioned in my first post I myself do not have consistency in even my best books...because I canít sustain that. There are always going to be passages that are a little drier than others- lead up chapters, slow burners, periods of introspect, etc. that isnít dishonest. Yes it is obviously dishonest to have, say, an opening chapter where New York gets a good nuking and then the rest of the book is all a hackneyed romantic bore fest but thatís not what anybody is reading these days...is it?

    You know whatís a good example of something which starts off far bigger and grander than the rest? The movie Saving Private Ryan. Everybody knows the Omaha Beach scene. It dwarfs the rest of the film in scale and awe and tragedy, in my opinion. And I think in that case it has to. How can you sustain something like that? Fortunately Spielberg had the ability to turn it into a story about men on a mission and it works. But it is still lopsided in terms of mass-scale action, right?


    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of all trades View Post
    It sounds like not enough story for a novel. The climax should not occur at the halfway point.

    A dragging beginning runs the risk of losing readers before anything of consequence happens.

    I suggest finding ways to keep the story going before the climax, but after the sizzling start.
    I think you have misinterpreted my original post slightly. Iím not sure if it was the way I explained the problem. I did not say the climax in my story occurs at the halfway point. Rather I spoke of the Devastating Event as being the point that sets the story on a glide slope to the climax. The idea is that there is this one massive tragedy (an Omaha Beach if you will...) and then the rest of the story is about dealing with the ramifications of that event. The climax is still at the end (near it anyway) but my issue is sustaining momentum between the Devastating Event (a beginning climax, if you like) and up until the true climax which would be the culmination of the plot. Basically itís how to write an aftermath that doesnít make the reader feel like the book has peaked.

    Spielberg managed this as mentioned because he was able to condense the big tragedy into a smaller one. That transition works well in a war film - seems itís practically become the standard for them actually - however in my story, dealing with a single mother who loses her baby in a horrible accident, I am finding it difficult. It might be a lack of story but I donít feel like it is. I have a good story. Itís just in order to get there I have to have the character go through a bit of a, for want of a better word, hangover.

  9. #9
    Not exactly a lopsided book, the first Calizona was written as a tv show, so it has numerous spikes (episodic peaks). The book is like a season of a netflix show. Where it was lopsided was in the end...and readers commented on it in the reviews. The book just ends abruptly... One minute you are enjoying a big festive event filled with all the weirdos you met during the book, and the next it just ends.

    So the last chapter, Christmas at the apocalypse, is lopsided.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    Not exactly a lopsided book, the first Calizona was written as a tv show, so it has numerous spikes (episodic peaks). The book is like a season of a netflix show. Where it was lopsided was in the end...and readers commented on it in the reviews. The book just ends abruptly... One minute you are enjoying a big festive event filled with all the weirdos you met during the book, and the next it just ends.

    So the last chapter, Christmas at the apocalypse, is lopsided.
    This makes me wonder...I would imagine anything to do with post apocalyptic fiction that begins with a depiction of the apocalypse (not sure if yours does) probably suffers from this sort of thing readily. If I am reading a really gripping, believable scene of absolute destruction I dare say finding out that people have survived it by hiding in a refrigerator or something could actually end up being disappointing. Probably a reason why a lot of post apocalyptic fiction either doesnít feature the actual event in the prose or features it indirectly/through flashback/etc.

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