Friday, November 20, 2009

NaNoReVisMo #5: galumphing towards triumph

A little while ago, INTERN posted about a fictitious Character Transformation Bazooka which could make characters have deep realisations and catharses instantly, with no justification.

There are a few other weapons of mass manuscript destruction (WMMD) in the arsenal.

One is the Triumph Bomb, or T-Bomb.

If you go see just about any movie that's playing in a mainstream theatre, there's bound to be at least one scene involving a Moment of Triumph: the submarine crew realizes they've fixed their leaking vessel just in time (hugs, shouts, and meaningful apologies ensue) or a pair of starcrossed mental defectives realizes they're meant for each other and triumphantly race to the nearest marriage office.

These moments of triumph usually happen after about ninety minutes of false starts, dissapointments, and disasters.

One comment INTERN finds herself writing frequently in novel critiques is that the moments of triumph in the story come too soon, or make no sense, or seem to drop out of the sky with nothing to warn their approach but a faint whistle on the breeze. There haven't been enough obstacles or disasters to make the triumph meaningful—or the stakes were too low for anyone to care.

T-bombs are especially rampant in manuscripts that involve the following:

-unrequited love
-battles (literal battles. like, with axes and longswords).
-stories with quirky mysteries (particularly in YA and MG books)
-stories about overcoming bullies (particularly in YA and MG)
-characters with diseases
-stories involving sports

Actually, it is possible to drop a T-bomb in just about any kind of novel.

INTERN has been doing a lot of research into this triumph thing, and has found that really effective triumphs in novels happen only after one or a few of the following have happened in the story:

-a character has had to sacrifice something
-a character has had to make a high-stakes choice or moral decision
-a character has tried several other options and failed
-a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal
-a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.
-a character has been forced to change significantly
-a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal

If none of these things have happened, but your characters are still smiling weepily and holding each other while Chariots of Fire plays in the background, they're probably the victims of a T-Bomb. Edit at will!

**

INTERN is heading out for an extended Thanksgiving visit with her family, so she will be away for the next week. Have courage, revisioneers, and good luck!

18 comments:

  1. Equilibrium disturbed.

    Unsuccesful struggle to restore equilibrium in three efforts.

    Anagnorisis.

    Unequivocal, irrevocable transformation.

    Peripetia.

    Triumph.

    Equilibrium restored.

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  2. George and the Dragon, a delightfully terrible movie, which somehow manages to remain delightful overall, has one of these about ten minutes in. George is going home to settle down. He gets home and sees his dad again. And the music swells, and they start to shout, and hug, and cry, and it's the funniest thing ever. "I knew you'd come, I knew it!"

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  3. Thanks. I find your list of situations which precede an effective triumph very helpful. Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your meal will not involve harvested quinoa or glucose gel.

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  4. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday!

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  5. I LOVE THIS :). It is just so true, and something I had to go back and correct in my own manuscript ;). Great points!

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  6. This is great! I'll be recommending this to all my writer friends :)

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  7. Hmm. After reviewing this list, I have a minor concern ---

    "INTERN has been doing a lot of research into this triumph thing, and has found that really effective triumphs in novels happen only after one or a few of the following have happened in the story:

    -a character has had to sacrifice something
    -a character has had to make a high-stakes choice or moral decision
    -a character has tried several other options and failed
    -a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal
    -a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.
    -a character has been forced to change significantly
    -a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal"

    ---and my concern is, many of those things happen to my characters, especially toward the end of the story. But there are only two or three triumph bombs in the story. Should these items be pared with triumph, or are you simply saying triumph bombs work WHEN paired with these items?

    I'm chewing on this one.

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  8. Great points. A Thanksgiving version of a T-Bomb would be a boy playing on the basketball team, scoring a bunch of points, and then going to his grandmother’s for the holiday and finding a huge dinner all ready on the table and everyone hugs and digs in. Bleh.

    So, to fix this turkey of a story, we stuff in your handy list of ingredients.

    -a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.

    A boy lives with his grandparents, and when he learns that they don’t have enough money for a Thanksgiving turkey 'cause his grandmother bought a hundred copies of Going Rogue for Christmas presents, he vows to get one in time for the big day.

    -a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal

    The boy goes hunting for a turkey, but he falls out of a tree and hurts his arm. He’s also in Newark, and the only turkeys to be found in the park are the police who take away his gun.

    -a character has tried several other options and failed

    The boy tries to steal a turkey from a wildlife preserve, tries to convince a radio station to drop turkeys out of a helicopter, and he even tries make a turkey out of tofu, but nothing works.

    -a character has had to sacrifice something

    Like his neighbor's pet turkey. No, that wouldn’t play well. Okay, he quits the basketball team to work after school at the local grocer’s to buy that big Butterball in the window.

    -a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal

    He almost loses his job when the storekeeper thinks he stole some cigarettes, but after a heated argument he convinces the grocer he'd never do such a thing. In truth, he actually did steal the cigarettes, and the whiskey as well, but only to sell them to the basketball players so he could buy some cranberries and stuffing.

    And finally the big day, when he carries in the Butterball and plops it down on the counter with the cranberries, stuffing, and a fifth of Wild Turkey, and the Triumph is delicious.

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  9. Good points. Perhaps we can come up with some kind of equation. The pain leading up to triumph has to be equal or greater than the actual triumph. Small pain == smug grin upon triumph. Big pain = fireworks + passionate kisses.

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  10. Thanks so much for this advice! It is helpful as I revise my YA sci-fi/fantasy novel. :)

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  11. I think all of this ties into character development. Without character development, not only do the "triumphs" feel contrived, but we just don't care about those big moments. All of the things you describe as making the triumph pay off sound suspiciously like character development. ;) I think you're onto something there.

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  12. I LIKE passionate kisses, but the pain always seems to come after ...

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  13. I've been reading your blog for a while now and just wanted to tell you that I love it and prompt all my aspiring-writers-and-publishers-friends to read it.

    I hope you will continue writing it, even now that the actual internship is over...

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  14. INTERN brings up many good points in this post. Thank you for the insider's insight that will hopefully prevent disasterous writing in hindsight lol.

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  15. I love these details about the editing process. Thanks for doing these posts! And LOL @ Maine Character!

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  16. Where did my comment go :(

    Well, I just wanted to say, Good Job on the post. It has a lot of good points from an internal perspective.

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  17. Have a great thanksgiving.

    Very cool post

    Kate x

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