Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 276 - That WHAM Moment

Ah, rewrites. How you are necessary. How you are exhausting.

It's been a long haul on my sci-fi spec (over 18 months now). For the most part, it has been a wonderful process. My writing partner is great and offers a superb learning opportunity (he has decades of industry experience and work). We (I) have churned out draft after draft, first of the treatment (at least seven major versions), and then the script (I've lost track - maybe five primary drafts with smaller edits in between). Now, we're just about there. 

My collaborator and I spent about 90 minutes on the phone last night going over his final set of notes on the most recent draft I sent him. For the most part, the notes were miniscule - this is a little confusing here, and I'm not quite sure we need this there. A couple larger notes will be fun to address. We're revising one of the characters from a scientist into more of an underworld entity, because the role he fills as a scientist is a duplicated later in more important scientist characters. He became a redundancy as we spoke, and all redundancies must go. We've also figured out how to further simplify the science, which will be fun if for no other reason that it will eliminate some of the headache of explaining the rulse of the world. 

One note, though, demanded a fair amount of chit chat before we decided we had to bite the bullet and forgo what I like to call the WHAM moment. Every script should have lots of "WHAM moments" - scenes, beats, or revelations that glue you to the edge of your seat. No amount of urgency to refill your popcorn or soda or to take a leak should be able to draw you away from a WHAM moment. These will typically occur around the tentpole scenes (inciting incident, act turns, midpoint, climax, etc.) but can be scattered throughout. Our inciting incident draws the protagonist from the everyday into the sci-fi world he was unaware of. He lands somewhere completely foreign to him, somewhere dangerous and devastating; this should be a WHAM moment. It's a big moment, but due to the rules of the world, we can't thrust him into the heart of the chaos. His emergence into this other realm, while jarring, takes place in a controlled environment, which is heated emotional, but not physical, implications. 

My partner and I went over this scene again and again. How can we get him into the chaos? What can go wrong that forces him there? Can we manipulate in a way that the moment he crosses the plane, he's in danger in a big way? That's what the scene should be. That's how we'll capture the audience and the reader in a big way. That's the WHAM moment. 

Ultimately, the rules of the world won't let it be so. Too many things would have to be fudged; too much would have to be explained (or worse, glossed over later). It just wouldn't work. Yes, we lose our WHAM moment, which is a shame, but we do so in order to preserve the rules we have established. Ultimately, though perhaps a less riveting exposure to this other realm, the rules have to trump the WHAM. We can't unravel the story for the sake of the scene. Who knows, maybe we'll figure out a solution. But for now, we have to suck it up on this one and proceed true to the story. 

On a side note, I've been working on editing my children's book further. For a project that has never been longer than 1,670 words, it is an incredibly difficult process. In fact, it is an incredibly difficult process because the project has never been longer than 1,670 words (and needs to be closer to 1,000). 

A friend who works in publishing suggested that I cut the nearly 1,700 word manuscript down to a thousand or so, since the age group of my targeted readership is low. It's a wise note, but cutting is easier said than done. I have excised some portions and looked for redundancies or areas to combine verses in order to truncate others, but the fewer words I have, the harder it becomes to strip further. I'm down to just under 1,350 words now, which is still probably too long, but I feel like I can't cut much more without eliminating entire parts of the story. What I can do, though (another suggestion from my friend) is to look at the verb choices and words I use. If I can't reduce the word count, I can at least make the existing words more active, imaginative, and magical. The goal is to make every single verse sing, which is a laborious, yet fun process. My goal is to be able to send it to my friend by Labor Day, so that she can put me in touch with agents soon after.