Sunday, March 23, 2008

Who you callin' princess?

I've posted a time or two these past weeks of my progress on DH, which to my mind is coming along quite nicely, though never as quickly as I'd like. The thing is, we writers often measure progress in pages (210, thanks for asking) or words (60,000, give or take), but there's an inherent problem with that. See, this week, I wrote a good seven or eight pages - the problem is, I cut three old ones, and spent a good amount of time massaging out the wrinkles that left in the ten or so that followed them. That leaves me with only four, maybe five new pages, but an immeasurably stronger book.

The other day on Criminal Brief, Stephen Steinbock elucidated a set of ten rules put forth in 1929 by Ronald A. Knox. Now, I don't put much truck in hard and fast rules with regard to plot or structure (and in fact have broken the living crap out of a couple of his), but there was one rule Knox put forth that resonated with me. No, not the one about the Chinaman (it was 1929, I know, but seriously, who says that?) No, the one I liked was this:

No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Should be obvious, right? I mean, we writers of thrillers and whatnot tend to beat the living hell out of our characters, throwing up obstacle after obstacle between them and their goals. But here's the thing: last weekend, I totally broke that. After two hundred pages of bad luck, my protagonist caught one hell of a lucky break. Truth is, it's been driving me nuts all week (like the princess and the pea, only, you know, manlier.) It just smacked of lazy writing. Problem was, it also set up the climax nicely. But after some lame attempts at self-justification, I decided to go back and fix it, and damn I'm glad I did.

Why? Well, first off, the lazy writing just plain irked me. But more importantly, I think there's an interesting parallel between what reads well on the page and what works well in real life. See, we like conflict on the page because it's interesting - that's why we eschew stories of happy people doing happy things in favor of the afore mentioned obstacles. But it's not the obstacles that are interesting - it's the characters' reactions to those obstacles that make the story worth reading. Likewise, my lame-ass boring lucky break wasn't interesting to write, which meant it wouldn't be any fun to read. See? Obstacle. But it got my brain turning all week, and I think I figured a hell of a way to make my protagonist really earn it - one that I suspect is way better than anything I could've come up with had I not first made a horrendous misstep.