Sunday, July 06, 2008

Combatting the Dramatic Mode

As mentioned previously, the flying output for my short story became, in the majority, a piece in the dramatic mode.

My initial draft was built up of connected scenes, utilising flashback from the midpoint onwards and wasting a vast amount of time on the relationship between the cop and the young protagonist. There was conflict and a lot of showing in these characters' actions and treatment of each other, but, it didn't shine a light on the story or theme, and, in fact, the story I was supposed to be telling was a little bit lost.

11 pages in, my main (false) narrative came to a stop, not because I was done with it, but because for all of its drama and development - flashback to show why the protagonist had come to make the decision that brought him into conflict with the cop - it didn't explain anything and I needed to ground the work in at least some exposition. At the time I thought after that section would be perfect.

The end didn’t arrive as they had depicted in any one of the Hollywood movies. It didn’t go with a bang and it wasn’t centred solely in America. In fact, by the time Alfredo Giancarlo was born, the end was unalterably established and advancing without much fanfare. It appeared, to those watching from – as yet – unaffected regions, that the billions it had afflicted and displaced and whose deaths it had contributed to were just more of the same: plague, pestilence, famine and the seemingly ubiquitous refugees.

Hollywood was safe long after the Mediterranean had suffered.

It's a contrivance, but it's a better starting block that relates to the story I should have been telling. This, of course, is the dramatic mode. We're not inside a scene, observing the characters' actions. We're outside, building up a picture.

I realised the technique I was using after a couple of pages (fancy that! Me, using a literary technique), and the story began to take a different shape - the necessary one. And here's the key, particularly in respect to the short story form: the tale I was telling was, though grounded in a mother/son relationship, one of sci-fi origins. It has a lengthy backstory that would otherwise have needed to be fleshed out in whole dramatic scenes - but again would have been a different story (imagine The Day After Tomorrow, but without so many weather patterns and a bit more potting).

Again, the backstory is pivotal, but only a partial of the story I wanted to tell. As such, writing in the dramatic mode allowed me to convey feeling and dip in and out of certain moments in these characters' histories, getting right to the punch and the crux of the subject and emotional journey.

Gone was the entire story setup that, I felt, was needed to spur the protagonist into action. Gone was the cop, the bullying, Alfredo's brother. As such I had to show certain things a different way: The characters' poverty and the mother's sickness in particular. What we must observe when writing in the dramatic mode is that showing and telling is still an important concept (inference adds weight to explanation):

It didn’t cost Alfredo a cent to stare.

... I'll be discussing word choice later.

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