Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Meet Tim...the Red Shirt

Any good Trekkie knows that the Red Shirts aren't supposed to be main characters in the show.  They have a name, and they have lines (sometimes), but their primary purpose is to die so that the main characters don't have to. 

So, the purpose of a scene in a book is to move things forward.  It's to give the reader new information, expose them to something important, and basically advance the story.  Something that I have learned from my meandering through the books that have been written on good writing is that you don't put something in a book just to put it there.  It must have a reason, a goal.  According to Debra Dixon there should be 3 reasons for a scene, and she gives a list of potential reasons indicating that it is potentially endless.  She also gives a list of three very distinct purposes for the scene.

So that brings me back to Tim, the red shirt.  I'm reading Etched in Bone by Adrian Phoenix.  Last night I read a chapter where the whole scene revolves around Tim and how he is going to "effing die" or whatever.  He dwells on that idea *a lot* in this scene.  In fact, it gets rather repetitive.  After several pages of Tim, the red shirt dwelling on his impending doom the holy, holy, holy creature emerges from the hole and scares the living daylights out of everyone allowing Tim to make a bolt for freedom.  (Okay, so maybe Tim wasn't technically a red shirt - perhaps he will reappear at some later point in the story to tell his tale of doom on the Mike and Jill Carr Radio Show - we can only hope that he had some other purpose than to effing introduce the appearance of the effing monster from the effing hole).  So my question becomes, first, what is the purpose of the scene?  My thought is perhaps it changes one of the character's goals (Kaplan or Slade - not sure I remember who either of these characters are), or it may bring someone into conflict with opposing forces.  I guess that remains to be seen.  Again though, this brings up another point.  WAAAAY too many characters. Who are Kaplan and Slade?  I just don't remember.  And why bring up Tim?  Is he going to be (yet another) character in the ever growing list?

Which brings me to another point.  There's that narrative thing which Adrian Phoenix (usually) does so well.  Yesterday I was reading my newsletter from RWA and they mentioned the concept of using italics for inner dialog.  The argument was that readers don't want to read large chunks of italicized text and are often inclined to skip it.  Well, usually, Adrian Phoenix does a great job of including small chunks of italicized text to relate to the readers things that are going on in Dante's head or things that have happened in the past.

Yesterday, however, I read a *whole chapter* of italicized text and frankly, I was quite inclined just to skip over it because not only was it all in italics, but it was a whole chapter of information that I've read over and over and over.  It was talking about Heather's mom and the night she died.  Now, this particular chunk of italicized text had just a wee bit of new information in the end (which I won't share with you due to spoilers) but really?  A whole chapter of replicated information for one sentence of new information?  And really, the new information didn't do anything at all with regards to Heather's goal.  It didn't change her goal (no new information), it didn't bring her into conflict with opposing forces (all characters in dream are already dead), *maybe* it strengthened her motivation....maybe.   But really, there was only one sentence in that whole chapter that related to that.  ONE.  Couldn't that chapter have been just a wee bit more creative?  Maybe given me something new to think about instead of feeding me information I already had?  Then, as far as the three reasons for the scene - just didn't see it.  Didn't get it at all.  Seems to me, on this one, she was trying to meet her publisher's word count requirement.

Now, you are probably wondering - who am I to criticize?  Well, I'm no one.  But, I have been a student long enough to know that the best way to learn is by example.  Adrian Phoenix is one of my favorite writers.  While it's tough to critique someone you admire, it's also a great way to learn.  If can critique someone you respect, it makes it easier to critique your own work.  Try it!  Remember, you never stop learning.



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