Friday, March 18, 2016

Finding a Story, Part Seven

Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six

I apologize for the lateness of this post. It’s been a busy week.

Anyway, getting down to business, I think we're going to talk about secrets today. Personally, I think there's a right way and a wrong way for characters to be keeping things from each other. What I would consider the wrong way is the willful failure to communicate. This is where the whole conflict of the piece arises when someone neglects to tell someone else a key piece of information. And by sharing that information, the whole thing could have been avoided. "But then there wouldn't be a story!" you might exclaim. That is true. But it would force the writer to come up with something better to drive the plot.

This will come back around to the story at hand, I promise.

The willful failure to communicate is not a new phenomenon. It's the basis for the story of Oedipus. See, when he was born, his parents were told that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Well, they wanted none of that, so they sent him away to be killed. Long story short, he ended up being adopted instead. One day, after he had grown up, he learned the same prophecy. So he ran away from the city of his adoptive parents, and wound up killing his biological father and marrying his biological mother. Now, if he had mentioned the prophecy to his adopted parents before running off, they could have said, "Chill, we're not your real parents," the whole thing could have been avoided, and Freud would have nothing to talk about.

The point is, I don't think this is an effective use of secrets in fiction. If someone's going to be keeping secrets, you don't want the audience to be yelling, "Just tell them already!" the entire time. You want them to be concerned about what might happen if the secret comes out.

How does this relate to our story in progress? Well, Jake's keeping secrets from his newfound companion. Namely, that he's a notorious killer. Here, I'll just show you. This picks up immediately after our last excerpt.

An overwhelming sense of dread came over him. He bolted for the front door. Outside, he wondered what he, of all people, would be so afraid of. But he didn’t stop running. He reached the train, vaulted over the coupling between two cars, and dove behind a car on the other side.

“What the hell am I doing?” he asked. There was no reason to think that he’d be any safer here.

Something crunched in the gravel under the train car. Taking a deep breath, he reached around the wheels and dragged it out. Whatever it was punched him in the nose, forcing him to drop it.

“Who are you? What do you want?” it asked.

Jake blinked a few times. It was a girl, somewhere between fifteen and twenty. She scurried away from him and tried to climb back under the car.

He grabbed her ankle and dragged her back out. “Relax, I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Sorry I can’t say the same,” she said, kicking him.

“Who are you?” he asked. “What the hell is this place?”

“I was hoping you knew,” she replied.

This conversation was getting nowhere. He sighed and extended a hand. “Jake.”

She stared at his hand for a minute and apprehensively took it. “Evie.”

“All right, now we’re getting somewhere. How long have you been here?”

“Not long. I heard someone coming, so I hid. You?”

He looked around the train car and back at the mansion. “Maybe an hour. Maybe two.” He looked back at her. She was staring. “What?” he asked.

“You look familiar. We haven’t met before, have we?”

“Not likely. Maybe you’ve seen one of my posters.”

“Are you famous or something?”

He looked down. “In a manner of speaking.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind. Forget it,” he said.

The question all this raises is, if he didn’t want her to know who he was, why mention the posters? Up until now, he didn't have a soul. Why would he care if she knew? For starters, she would be decidedly less cooperative if she knew who he was. As for the posters, I think he assumed that things were already going downhill when she almost recognized him. But then his half-admission of notoriety didn’t spark anything, and so he backtracked.

Why do I sound so unsure when I'm the one writing it? I have very little control over these people. For the most part, they do what they want and I just follow them around and write it down.

The point of all this is that Jake has a secret that he foolishly almost let slip. He doesn't know it yet, but saving this girl is going to be his salvation. How is she going to feel about that if she finds out who he really is? Stay tuned, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. I agree in that willfully withheld secrets need a motivation to be kept. It keeps the agency with the characters rather than turning miscommunication into an unfulfilling plot device.