Pulling Punches vs. Raising the Bar


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Thread: Pulling Punches vs. Raising the Bar

  1. #1

    Lightbulb Pulling Punches vs. Raising the Bar

    Charlie opens his laptop and gives Janet a wink. "Okay," he says, "today we're writing the first romantic moment between the characters!"

    Janet sips her wine and slips into the seat beside him. "Excellent," she says. "I love love."

    Charlie raises a finger and says, "But it's not the big romantic moment. That's for later in the story. So we should probably keep that in mind."

    Janet shrugs and takes another sip. "Okay."

    Charlie rests his fingers on the keys, then lifts them off again. "But, you get what I mean, right? That this isn't going to be the big moment. So we should write it light, and hold back a bit."

    For the first time all evening, Janet sets her wine glass down. "Woah, woah," she says, "hold on. Write it light? Hold back a bit?"

    Charlie lifts the wine glass and scoots a coaster under it. "Yeah. So that the real big moment hits harder."

    Janet frowns. "So you think that, in order for that later scene to work, we need to skimp on this earlier scene?"

    Charlie looks up at the ceiling and blinks. "Well, I guess that's one way to put it, yeah."

    Janet's frown deepens. "So you want to shortchange the reader here, so that you can make it up to them later in the story."

    Now it's Charlie's turn to frown. "Well, not shortchange, per say. But I don't want to use up too much emotional currency. It's like gambling: bet low now, so we have enough money to bet big when it counts."

    Janet cocks her head and says, "Why not bet high now, and then just bet even higher later on?"

    Charlie: "Because I don't want to diminish the hitting power of that later scene by having this earlier scene feel too emotional."

    Janet: "It won't diminish the later scene—it'll make the later scene feel that much stronger, because the reader will have felt more for the characters from this scene."

    Charlie frowns and scratches his head. "Yeah, but ... Hmm."

    Janet sighs, plucks her wine glass off the coaster, and takes another swig. "I think we're going to need more liquor."


    Who do you agree with more: Charlie, or Janet?

  2. #2
    Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    I agree with Charlie, as Janet seems to have conflated a lighter-touch style with failing to connect, as though brute force is the only option. If that was the case, every piece of music would be like Spinal Tap covering Rachmaninov. Mind you, Charlie doesn't really express himself very well.

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  3. #3
    Subtle (or tease) versus blatant. It's not a one-size-fits-all -- again. There's a time and place to be subtle and a time and place to be blatant.

    Cute presentation of the question, though.

  4. #4
    Charlie points at the laptop and says, "See? This Charles guy agrees with me." He flashes Janet a smug grin and adds, "Once again, proving that Charlies know best."

    Janet refills her wine glass and taps a fingernail against the screen. "What about Jack's response? Seems very even-handed. He's got a point."

    Charlie nods. "Sure, but we still haven't reached an agreement. I still think we should hold back. If we want that big scene to feel like, say, 90% emotional, it makes sense to have the earlier scene feel, like, only 30% emotional. Know what I mean?"

    Janet shakes her head. "No. You're approaching it like math—as if there's a finite amount of emotion a reader can experience. I think of it like a snowball instead. If you start with a tiny snowball, you'll get a larger one by the end. But if you start with a bigger snowball, you'll get a monstrous one by the end. It's the difference between a reader saying, "Hey, that was pretty good", versus, "Holy CRAP that story WRECKED MY SOUL."

    Charlie scrunches his face and says, "I still like my math analogy more."

    Janet rolls her eyes. "You would."

    Charlie chuckles. "Touché. Okay, then. What now?"

    Janet shrugs and points to the laptop. "Maybe see what else they have to say." She gives Charlie a wink and says, "It'll give me more time to drink."

  5. #5
    Hold back in what way? Don't hold back on the writing, always write everything as well as you can, but maybe hold back on what the writing is about; after all they have only just met, this is the beginning. People nearly always hold back a bit of themselves in the beginning, it is realistic, but that is a great opportunity for some good writing, don't hold back.
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  6. #6
    Janet chokes on her wine, then drags her wrist across her lips. "See? Right there! That Olly guy nailed it. Don't hold back in your writing. Why hold back? Holding back won't make the reader swoon. Holding back won't make those future scenes feel stronger. It'll just make the current scene feel weaker."

    Charlie presses his lips into a line. "But he also said that it's natural for people to hold back early on in a relationship." He crosses his arms and grins. "So in a way, he's also agreeing with me. It makes sense to write early romantic tension in a light, tentative sort of way. Or early tension of any kind." He taps his chin, then says, "Lesser intensity in the early parts of the story should make the more intense scenes, in the later stages, feel more powerful."

    Janet refills her glass. "Who says you can't write early, tentative emotions in a heavy, passionate way? Who says scenes need to be weighed against one another?"

    Charlie furrows his brow. "Well, now you're just muddying the argument. How many glasses have you had to drink?"

    Janet recoils, clutching the wine glass to her chest. "A wine glass is an experience, Mr. Charlie, not a numerical value." She points a wavering finger at his chest and slurs, "Much like writing sshhould be."

  7. #7
    (Okay, I might be having too much fun with this meta-narrative. Perhaps I should stop before Janet succumbs to alcohol poisoning. )

    But keep the discussion going, guys! Great points so far.

  8. #8
    One thing I have noticed is that the reader tends not to feel as close as the writer no matter how well-done - as a writer you will always be closer to the work than the reader.

    At best you can draw the reader into the moment, but there is always the barrier of second-handedness. The writer's vision is the flame, the reader the piece of meat dangling over. You can bring them close enough to cook but you can never make them as hot for the story as you.

    With that in mind it simply doesn't make sense to say "hold back" UNLESS you are one hundred percent confident what you are offering them now is enough to maintain their interest. It's a risk and one you can only afford to take if you have the experience and the skill and the game plan. Otherwise it sounds an awful lot like a road to a cop out and creative laziness to me.

    But let's say you don't want to employ that excellent idea now for fear of it not receiving its full effect because it is, in your mind, that damn good - the absolute zenith of your story. What makes you so sure you can't go all out and still raise the bar higher? Why essentially kneecap your imagination by designating the climax early?

    There might be reasons. I am not totally dismissing the idea of withholding a big moment for a later place in the work. Sometimes you may need to. Pacing is important. But I don't think setting limits is generally a good way to go. In all likelihood that "amazing love scene" you are saving up is only amazing to you and not something the average reader wants to labor through eighty pages to get to. Give it to them early and then think of how to make it better. Strive, achieve, and keep striving for more.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janet View Post
    Don't hold back in your writing. Why hold back? Holding back won't make the reader swoon. Holding back won't make those future scenes feel stronger. It'll just make the current scene feel weaker.
    Holding back doesn't equal weaker, Janet. Your approach is far too simplistic, and doesn't factor in a single nuance of human appreciation. I suspect, Janet, that your approach would work for the likes of you - linear, word-by-word readers for whom subtlety is a dirty word, a barely-understood demon that causes lesser lifeforms to tremble with dread. Well, that's ok, Janet. Not everyone can be an artist, not everyone has the brainpower to know greatness. Some people are just jobbing hacks plonking down words, so with that in mind, Janet, maybe you should leave the refinements to the Charlies of the world. Now go have fun with your boom-boom-chugga-chugga brightly-coloured "literature".



    {{ooc: this is great. I can totally insult this person because they're not real, but simply a fabulous creation of Kyle's!! }}


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    One thing I have noticed is that the reader tends not to feel as close as the writer no matter how well-done - as a writer you will always be closer to the work than the reader.

    At best you can draw the reader into the moment, but there is always the barrier of second-handedness. The writer's vision is the flame, the reader the piece of meat dangling over. You can bring them close enough to cook but you can never make them as hot for the story as you.

    With that in mind it simply doesn't make sense to say "hold back" UNLESS you are one hundred percent confident what you are offering them now is enough to maintain their interest. It's a risk and one you can only afford to take if you have the experience and the skill and the game plan. Otherwise it sounds an awful lot like a road to a cop out and creative laziness to me.

    But let's say you don't want to employ that excellent idea now for fear of it not receiving its full effect because it is, in your mind, that damn good - the absolute zenith of your story. What makes you so sure you can't go all out and still raise the bar higher? Why essentially kneecap your imagination by designating the climax early?

    There might be reasons. I am not totally dismissing the idea of withholding a big moment for a later place in the work. Sometimes you may need to. Pacing is important. But I don't think setting limits is generally a good way to go. In all likelihood that "amazing love scene" you are saving up is only amazing to you and not something the average reader wants to labor through eighty pages to get to. Give it to them early and then think of how to make it better. Strive, achieve, and keep striving for more.
    Characters better loved by fans than their authors : Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirot, the Hardy Boys, Harry Potter(?), just to name a few.

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