Three Little Words

by wjw on December 23, 2007

So I have been writing along on the novel, and it’s going surprisingly well, thank you.

Right up till this week, actually, when I encountered the part of the book described in my outline with three words. The words being: Their relationship deepens.

Three words that imply a great deal, but that— like the rhetoric of our political candidates— don’t actually say much when you look at them closely.

Oh dear. I’ve hit the Relationship part of the book.

Some types of writing are easy for me. Action scenes are easier than anything. I once startled the members of a panel at an SF con by extemporizing out loud something like three long, detailed paragraphs of pulp-action fiction. (Biplanes vs. zeppelins, I believe.)

If all else fails, I could survive as a Grade B action writer. Grade B, I think, because my heart really wouldn’t be in it. In order to be a Grade A action writer, you really have to care how the Elizabethans fletched their arrows, or whatever, and I just don’t.

To be a super action writer, you have to really get off on how the Heckler & Koch MP5A5, with the collapsing stock, is different from the MP5K-PDW with the folding stock, and there’s always a moment in the story when this stuff matters. And of course the readers love this kind of thing.

And if you’re doing this within the realm of SF, you’ve got the Colt Blazer Laser Rifle Ch54z, which has the supreme edge over the enemy’s Tau Ceti Industries Personal Maser 85-11 (dropship capable with folding stock). Which is to say, this magic tech (which I made up) is superior to this other magic tech (which I made up). I can’t get excited by this, generally speaking.

Plus, I grew up playing wargames from Avalon Hill and SPI and many other publishers, many of them forgotten now. And I was darned good at most of them. It’s no problem translating that skill into fiction, where there are no inconvenient die rolls to vex your hero— unless, of course, you want him vexed, in which case you can roll A ELIM all you want.

So while there are quite a few action scenes in my books, they aren’t there for their own sake. I use action scenes to illuminate character, and generally I find an action scene in which the character doesn’t change to be unnecessary and in some way dull. At the very least they should have a revelation that doesn’t have to do with tactics, but with their own nature, or someone else’s.

I enjoy writing sex scenes. As I mentioned a few posts back, mine tend not to be very explicit, they tend to be about emotional states, which reflect on character, which is what I’m really interested in.

I’m also good at writing dialogues. Cuz— guess what?— dialogues illuminate character. And character is what my fiction is all about.

Which brings us back to Relationship scenes, which I find very challenging. You have to spend your hours sweating over nuance and emotional states and not just how the characters communicate all this to each other— or don’t— but how to communicate it all to the reader, which real people in relationships don’t worry about much.

Their relationship deepens.

Well, what sort of relationship is it? I might have had an idea, months ago when I wrote the outline, but I don’t remember now— and even if I did, I’ve been living with these characters for months, and they’ve changed, and any idea I had back then might well be obsolete.

Do they go to bed together? I don’t know. I know they need to get close enough to sort of start reading one another’s minds. Maybe sex would help, but maybe it would just add another element that isn’t actually required by the plot. Sex scenes not required by the plot are gratuitous— not that a little gratuitous fun isn’t enjoyable in its own way— but. But.

Their relationship deepens.

Now I’m beginning to wonder if the relation actually needs to deepen. I mean, we’ve got to have something in here between Point A and Point C, because time needs to pass in some meaningful way so that the next Plot Bomb can explode where it needs to. Can’t I just throw in a swordfight?

Well no, this isn’t the sort of book that has swordfights. It has Relationships. And there’s nothing that can happen in this part of the book except a Relationship.

Maybe I’ll just have them talk to each other a lot. Because, you know, I do dialogue really well.

Or maybe I’ll just start with the talking and see where it goes. Because, hey, that’s what happens in real relationship, right?

Their relationship deepens.

I mean, what the hell. What is this “deepening?” Why does deepening need to happen here?

Surely there must be a workaround.

Maybe I’ll just have them talk. Yeah, that’s it. Start with something simple, like, “You seeing anybody?”

Their relationship deepens.

What do they notice about each other? I mean, that’s important. If she starts paying attention to his hands and fingers and the shape of his ears, that means a lot.

Maybe I’ll get them drunk. That way they can blurt out character-revealing information they might not otherwise want to talk about.

Their relationship deepens.

Crap. Whose idea was this stupid book, anyway?

Their relationship deepens.

I think I’ll watch TV.

Maureen McHugh December 23, 2007 at 11:06 pm

My suggestion? Have them go in the opposite direction you want this whole relationship deepening thing to culminate in. So, if they need to be soul mates start by having them discover a meaningful issue between them. Not a Tracey/Hepburn issue (although she has a job and can’t cook a steak and he wants a domestic life with her wasn’t a bad difference, it’s just, you know, dated.) But I would suggest a disagreement at this point.

Synova December 24, 2007 at 4:02 am

Curiously, I had pretty much the same reaction as Maureen.

It’s probably not helpful and you probably weren’t asking for help anyway (and it is *always* encouraging to know that it’s not always smooth sailing for the professionals) but it’s human nature to try to solve problems. So…

How about, “The relationship becomes more complex.”


David W Goldman December 24, 2007 at 4:58 am

Obviously, the scene must begin with her expressing disappointed surprise upon noticing his Tau Ceti Industries Personal Maser 85-11.

Fred Kiesche December 24, 2007 at 2:56 pm

More importantly: What are you contributing to Christmas Dinner? Seeing that you are the Master of Meat, and all that!

Zora December 25, 2007 at 2:01 am

You could try treating it like a mystery … give the reader clues, but downplay them. X and Y are thrown into contact with each other more and more frequently, spend time talking, but there’s no romantic frisson. The realization that there’s an attraction strikes the characters and the reader at the same time.

Unlike romance novels where the minute the tall dark hero shows up, you know that love is in the offing. Even if he and the heroine haven’t exchanged a word.

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