Pulling Punches vs. Raising the Bar - Page 3

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Thread: Pulling Punches vs. Raising the Bar

  1. #21
    I think its worth saying this also depends hugely on the length of the story.

    If we are talking short stories, of two to five thousand words, there is probably not going to be much room for holding back regardless. Certainly I never managed to be that economical with restricted word count...

    Novels are obviously more flexible in teasing up big moments but it probably needs said the conventions of the specific medium will govern the structure of work as much as author preferences.

    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    If every scene is written to achieve the maximum amount of impact possible you run the risk of morphing drama into melodrama, characterization into caricature, passion into porn, and impactfulness into hyperbole. The reader will become jaded.
    So what do you mean by "impact" here?

    I only ask because it seems like in this discussion there is a lot of conflating "impact" with "action".

    Writing should always be at maximum impact, in the sense that writing should always retain maximum ability to trigger a reader's emotions. Whether its a fight scene or an awkward dinner doesn't matter - each scene should be written as powerfully as possible. If not, what is the point in including it?

    Isn't it more accurate to say too much of the same thing is what leaves readers jaded? I certainly don't think its intensity itself that's the problem.

    A movie like Saving Private Ryan lurches from violent carnage to tearjerk with very few scenes that hold back, yet it does not become hyperbolic nor melodramatic. There are differences to be sure - a tank battle is different than two guys grappling with bayonets, different again to the image of an old man in front of a grave - and something to give those scenes context, but pretty much every scene is juiced for all the emotion that it has.

    That, for me, is storytelling at its best. On the other hand, I could easily become jaded if the entire movie was set on Omaha Beach - of nothing but men getting shredded over and over. Not because its intense, but simply because it is repetitive.

    So isn't the key to avoiding the pitfalls you describe not so much about the writer placing restrictions on impact but rather about being creative as to how to draw emotion into the scene? To constantly add variety and avoid predictability. And of course ensuring narrative consistency/coherency at all times.
    Last edited by luckyscars; January 11th, 2019 at 04:13 AM.
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  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Alice: "Excuse me, I couldn't help overhearing."

    Charlie looked up at her, annoyed.

    Alice just plowed on. "There's no reason that first touch can't be powerful." She lightly placed her hand on Janet's shoulder; Janet took a quick breath. "You should have great scenes long before you even get to the first kiss."

    Janet looked up at Alice. "That's what I was trying to say." Alice gently squeezed Jane's shoulder, and they held each other's gaze a second too long.



    Charlie leaned in, and the women could tell they were in for a serious bout of mansplain.

    "I think what you meant to say," he informed them, in the tones of one who knows precisely what he is doing and is not afraid to let the world know it, "is that I, as a man, was right all along. Isn't that it?"

    But they ignored him. Lines of energy pulsed between their eyes, twin pairs of cloudless curves that glitched and shimmered as if remembering a sorrow long put aside. Something was happening, something so ancient and powerful that there was no longer a word for it. It was as though they had entered a subtle netherspace of revelation where each other's most precious things were laid out, without judgment or reserve, a place in which they could talk without speaking, where their very boundaries seemed to dissolve and reform a hundred different ways with every exquisitely-passing painful second.

    Charlie's mansplainy-ass hair stood on end.




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  3. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    So what do you mean by "impact" here?

    I only ask because it seems like in this discussion there is a lot of conflating "impact" with "action".

    Writing should always be at maximum impact, in the sense that writing should always retain maximum ability to trigger a reader's emotions. Whether its a fight scene or an awkward dinner doesn't matter - each scene should be written as powerfully as possible. If not, what is the point in including it?

    Isn't it more accurate to say too much of the same thing is what leaves readers jaded? I certainly don't think its intensity itself that's the problem.

    A movie like Saving Private Ryan lurches from violent carnage to tearjerk with very few scenes that hold back, yet it does not become hyperbolic nor melodramatic. There are differences to be sure - a tank battle is different than two guys grappling with bayonets, different again to the image of an old man in front of a grave - and something to give those scenes context, but pretty much every scene is juiced for all the emotion that it has.

    That, for me, is storytelling at its best. On the other hand, I could easily become jaded if the entire movie was set on Omaha Beach - of nothing but men getting shredded over and over. Not because its intense, but simply because it is repetitive.

    So isn't the key to avoiding the pitfalls you describe not so much about the writer placing restrictions on impact but rather about being creative as to how to draw emotion into the scene? To constantly add variety and avoid predictability. And of course ensuring narrative consistency/coherency at all times.
    The impact I am talking about is the emotional payoff for the scene. No book has high emotional stakes in every scene written. I've seen new authors try to do that and it just doesn't work. You mention Saving Private Ryan -- not a book, but we can run with it for discussion's sake -- that movie is nearly 3 hours long, and I'd be surprised if even 45 minutes of it have any sort of fighting at all, so 'action' isn't the impact I'm talking about. I've also been clear that we should always craft every scene to the very best of our ability, which includes drawing readers in since that is, after all, the writer's job. No, what I'm saying is that not every scene needs to be better than the last, more emotional than the last -- which is what I interpreted 'Janet's' position to be. Many of our scenes have very little emotional pay-off. Some are written (NOTE: Again, when I say "written" I mean crafted and executed to the best of the writer's ability) to develop characters, some to establish setting, or theme, others to create tone, and some to establish backstory.

    Repeated actions aren't the only type of repetition which can become boring. I think everyone following this thread knows that good books require a certain rhythm to be established in the narrative. As in a symphony, that rhythm ebbs and flows, rises and falls, and works its magic through each instrument. Every crescendo needs its intermezzo. All the music needs to be written and played well, but a string of uninterrupted crescendos, each more dramatic than the last, is just noise.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
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    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


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  4. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    The impact I am talking about is the emotional payoff for the scene. No book has high emotional stakes in every scene written. I've seen new authors try to do that and it just doesn't work. You mention Saving Private Ryan -- not a book, but we can run with it for discussion's sake -- that movie is nearly 3 hours long, and I'd be surprised if even 45 minutes of it have any sort of fighting at all, so 'action' isn't the impact I'm talking about. I've also been clear that we should always craft every scene to the very best of our ability, which includes drawing readers in since that is, after all, the writer's job. No, what I'm saying is that not every scene needs to be better than the last, more emotional than the last -- which is what I interpreted 'Janet's' position to be. Many of our scenes have very little emotional pay-off. Some are written (NOTE: Again, when I say "written" I mean crafted and executed to the best of the writer's ability) to develop characters, some to establish setting, or theme, others to create tone, and some to establish backstory.

    Repeated actions aren't the only type of repetition which can become boring. I think everyone following this thread knows that good books require a certain rhythm to be established in the narrative. As in a symphony, that rhythm ebbs and flows, rises and falls, and works its magic through each instrument. Every crescendo needs its intermezzo. All the music needs to be written and played well, but a string of uninterrupted crescendos, each more dramatic than the last, is just noise.
    Just so its clear, I used a movie example deliberately, as I think all too often these discussions revolve around novels when the area of this forum is "writing discussion" and nothing in the OP seemed dedicated specifically to novels.

    I would be interested to know how you "draw readers into a scene" without using emotional triggers? It is hard to do, I find, to stimulate interest without appealing to the emotional state of the reader. But that may be just me.

    You mention setting the scene as a function of a type of scene that does not necessarily employ an emotional payoff. There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan which is just the squad walking over the hill as the sun emerges. It sets the scene, that seems its primary purpose, yet I deem it to be emotionally significant: Not intense, not thrilling, there's no fighting and it is not even a particularly important moment as far as plot...but still moving. It portrays isolation, an appeal to the notion of "the few, the happy few, the band of brothers", the sun's emergence taking on the Spielbergian symbolism of "bright in dark". These are emotional payoffs, not informational ones, yet the purpose of the scene is ostensibly "showing setting". Why not write the "intermezzo" scenes like that?

    Granted it could definitely be debated as to whether there are relative differences in impact/emotion, whether such scenes are less emotionally triggering than, say, a gunfight on Omaha Beach. That seems reasonable. It also seems far too idiosyncratic to be resolvable. Veterans tended to faint during Omaha beach, but not everybody did - Personally I skip that part if I ever watch the movie, I find carnage boring after about a minute, and I remember even watching it in the theater finding it boring after I got over the initial shock of visceral imagery. Different people cry at different places in different books, right?

    Your interpretation of my point about impact in SPR as relating to fighting leads me to believe your view of what constitutes "emotional payoff" and mine are probably different and that's okay. My only point is I think its probably less perplexing in practice to think of about varying or withholding emotional payoff and more helpful to focus on variety for the sake of variety, pushing the imaginative qualities of what can be done within a scene without stretching credibility. If you never write the same (or similar) scene twice in the same (or similar) way, appealing to the same (or similar) set of emotions using the same (or similar) set of tools your reader will probably not become jaded, surely? As far as emotional weight, I think pretty much every scene can have that if the writer is competent enough to work it in - certainly I have always tried - and if it can't its probably not a scene that should be in the book.
    Last edited by luckyscars; January 11th, 2019 at 05:22 PM.
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  5. #25
    But every scene doesn't carry the same emotional weight, and it shouldn't. This shit really isn't difficult until people start nit-picking semantics.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  6. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    But every scene doesn't carry the same emotional weight, and it shouldn't. This shit really isn't difficult until people start nit-picking semantics.
    This shit isn't difficult until people start hallucinating disagreement.

    We probably agree on most of this but if you find it too frustrating to tolerate discussion of I suggest we agree to disagree.

    Based on your comments I already recognized the impossibility of achieving an equal emotional weight: "Granted it could definitely be debated as to whether there are relative differences in impact/emotion, whether such scenes are less emotionally triggering than, say, a gunfight on Omaha Beach. That seems reasonable. It also seems far too idiosyncratic to be resolvable."

    What I said is every scene should receive equal treatment in how it is approached as far as how impressive. That's a totally different thing. Nobody is suggesting making every scene a cliffhanger or an orgy.

    I am saying you should not go into a scene with the view of repressing the emotional experience of your reader simply because you are unable to find a way to execute in a way they have not already experienced (or that you envision them later experiencing). A good writer should be able to deliver a consistently enriching emotional experience with pacing without needing to consciously hold back on what they feel to be impactful.
    "All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened."

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  7. #27
    I don't think anyone is suggesting that the reader's emotional experience be repressed.

    This is similar to suspense versus shock. Both elicit an emotional response, although the emotions differ. A good writer chooses which emotion to tap. Anticipation is just as valid as any other emotion. And going for anticipation is not the same as repression. The same is true for building suspense.

  8. #28
    I agree with Emma that each scene should represent the state of the characters to maximum effect, but hopefully your characters aren't always at maximum emotion.

    Like, if we're sticking with romance examples (my specialty...)

    Scene A might have the characters meet for the first time, and to take a romance cliche, maybe they have reasons to hate each other. So then the hate should be written with absolutely as much effectiveness as the author can manage. The reader should FEEL the animosity.

    Scene B might introduce an element of doubt. Maybe the other character isn't as bad as originally thought. This doubt is also an intense emotion for the character, but it's in a different direction than the emotion in Scene A, so the writer can convey it with maximum power without worrying about burning out the reader.

    Scene C has the first spark of attraction (well, really, that was probably in Scene A, but it was repressed, then, giving more power to the animosity). Most of us know that electric excitement of the first flirting, the way that everything becomes more vivid, etc... and the author should portray that as accurately and intensely as possible. Again, it's a different emotion, so I don't think burnout is likely.

    Scene D involves a seeming betrayal, and the character is thrown into despair, which the author portrays vividly.

    Scene E is the final resolution where the characters are elated to find they haven't betrayed each other, are truly meant for each, blah blah blah... and the author portrays this with intensity.


    So I agree with the idea that we should build to a climax in a story, but it should be a climax of having finally found the right emotion. All the other emotions should have been portrayed vividly, but in a way that was accurate for that point in the novel.

    In the original example, I'd say the problem is that the author has made things too easy for the characters. They shouldn't be ABLE to have their fantastic loving moment that early in the book, because they haven't gone through enough trials to deserve it, yet.

  9. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    because they haven't gone through enough trials to deserve it, yet.
    I really feel it is bad enough only getting what you deserve when you deserve it in real life, and at least romantic fiction should escape that. Take them up to the peak, drop them to the nadir, and then rescue them to normality. The reader can be satisfied they have attained the perfect state without having to go through all that, life is good.

    Slightly tongue in cheek, but there are as many different ways to write a story as there are authors, any of them can work in the right hands.
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