cockroach races

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Pat James
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cockroach races

Postby Pat James » Tue Sep 05, 2017 4:09 pm

A tip from bookbaby. Did anybody see part 1?

http://blog.bookbaby.com/2017/08/narrative-structure-its-ok-to-stray/

The pantsers answer to structure. Bring the characters to life and make it real.
One way to create a memorable story is to take a minute to let your characters breathe. Build a scene where you exit the narrative structure and allow your readers to bond with the characters.
In “Narrative Structure: What It Is and How To Use It,” we looked at narrative structure and how knowing the classic three-act structure is important for writers.

But structure isn’t everything, and placing too much importance on it can lead to a lifeless book. We see this problem all the time in Hollywood movies and mass-market fiction. Narratively, they are textbook examples: the books keep the pages turning, the movies draw you into their worlds and stories. Yet, at the end of the tale, you’re left feeling kind of empty. A lot happened, but there was nothing of consequence. These are truly forgettable stories. (My wife has, on more than one occasion, started reading one of these books only to realize, several chapters in, that she has read it before.)

So how do you avoid producing a forgettable story? In a word: character. In several words: you’ve got to let your characters breathe. And one way to do this is by pausing the narrative and inserting what I call cockroach races.

What’s a cockroach race?
A cockroach race is an inessential moment in a story where the characters get a chance to just be themselves without necessarily moving the plot forward. It’s a moment where you pause the narrative and let your readers or audience bond with the characters.

These scenes are totally unnecessary in terms of the plot, but completely essential to bringing your characters to life. You’ll find more often than not that the most beloved and iconic moments in books and movies are cockroach races.

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wdarcy
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Re: cockroach races

Postby wdarcy » Wed Sep 06, 2017 3:09 pm

I read the original article, but I'm still not sure exactly what the author is getting at. And I distrust an author who is supposedly talking about writing fiction, yet pulls all his examples from films. How about some examples from novels?

In any case, thrillers are no place for "cockroach races." Every scene, every paragraph, every word must contribute to moving the story forward. Too often an extraneous scene is an example of what Steven James calls BOGSAT: Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking. Of course, it could just as well be women or a mixed group. Essentially two or more characters sit around over coffee, or drinks and munchies, or perhaps a complete meal and talk about the weather, their friends, what's going on in the world, gossip, etc. It does nothing to move the story forward. I suppose that would qualify as a "cockroach race." But it should be excised.

Steven has a good rule of thumb: (I'm paraphrasing from memory) If by the time a scene ends nothing has changed, then the scene is unnecessary and should be deleted.

It's possible I don't quite understand the author's concept of a cockroach race. I would really like an example from a best-selling novel.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

T.A.Rodgers
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Re: cockroach races

Postby T.A.Rodgers » Wed Sep 06, 2017 3:30 pm

I agree with you partly, Warren. I think there are areas in a scene that you can add the cockroach race, but you can still end the scene with a change or cliffhanger. I like to mix my chapters this way. Some of my chapters are complete action with no time for a breath and others I like to call rollercoaster chapters. The chapter may start with the wild ride to the bottom. Then at the bottom there may be enough time for a breather (some character building) as the coaster begins its climb back up, and then right at the next apex the coaster falls off the cliff. :D

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wdarcy
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Re: cockroach races

Postby wdarcy » Wed Sep 06, 2017 4:10 pm

Oh, sure, Terry. What you're describing seems close to the scene and sequel alternation. A scene advances the action, possibly at breakneck speed. The following sequel is a chance for regrouping and reflection, culminating in some sort of decision. That decision triggers the following action scene.

I'm all for sequels in this sense. I write quite a few of them. But notice that at the end of a sequel, something is changed. A decision as to how to proceed has been made.

The author of this article seemed to suggest that some scenes be cockroach races from beginning to end. Maybe I misunderstand him. And character building is fine. But something has to happen at some point in the scene.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

Pat James
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Re: cockroach races

Postby Pat James » Wed Sep 06, 2017 4:13 pm

[quote="wdarcy"]I read the original article, but I'm still not sure exactly what the author is getting at. And I distrust an author who is supposedly talking about writing fiction, yet pulls all his examples from films. How about some examples from novels?

In any case, thrillers are no place for "cockroach races." Every scene, every paragraph, every word must contribute to moving the story forward. Too often an extraneous scene is an example of what Steven James calls BOGSAT: Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking. Of course, it could just as well be women or a mixed group. Essentially two or more characters sit around over coffee, or drinks and munchies, or perhaps a complete meal and talk about the weather, their friends, what's going on in the world, gossip, etc. It does nothing to move the story forward. I suppose that would qualify as a "cockroach race." But it should be excised.

Steven has a good rule of thumb: (I'm paraphrasing from memory) If by the time a scene ends nothing has changed, then the scene is unnecessary and should be deleted.

It's possible I don't quite understand the author's concept of a cockroach race. I would really like an example from a best-selling novel.

--Warren[/quote]
========

I believe he used movies as an example as more people have seen them than have read a given book.
Anyway, I do not see a real difference with planning the story for a movie vs a novel.

What he said was that developing character is useful even if you don't advance the action in that scene. If you consider scenes developing character as useless them omit them. Not every story is a thriller. But some of them benefit with character development.

I have a rule of thumb. Don't write a scene at all unless you know why the last scene made it necessary and how the next scene will continue.
Some big name author said to do that but I don't recall who. Could be several of them. Makes sense to do it that way.

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wdarcy
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Re: cockroach races

Postby wdarcy » Wed Sep 06, 2017 6:15 pm

[quote="Pat James"]

I have a rule of thumb. Don't write a scene at all unless you know why the last scene made it necessary and how the next scene will continue.
Some big name author said to do that but I don't recall who. Could be several of them. Makes sense to do it that way.[/quote]

I can't disagree with that. Another way to put it is that every scene should be a reaction to the previous scene as well as an action that triggers the next scene.

I am all for character development. I pride myself on creating interesting and memorable characters to whom readers can relate. But I try to do it in a way that moves the story along, if only a little bit.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

Pat James
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Re: cockroach races

Postby Pat James » Wed Sep 06, 2017 6:20 pm

[quote="wdarcy"][quote="Pat James"]

I have a rule of thumb. Don't write a scene at all unless you know why the last scene made it necessary and how the next scene will continue.
Some big name author said to do that but I don't recall who. Could be several of them. Makes sense to do it that way.[/quote]

I can't disagree with that. Another way to put it is that every scene should be a reaction to the previous scene as well as an action that triggers the next scene.

I am all for character development. I pride myself on creating interesting and memorable characters to whom readers can relate. But I try to do it in a way that moves the story along, if only a little bit.

--Warren[/quote]
======

Indeed. The action reaction model of scenes. Planners line them all up before they start. Pantsers hopefully have planned at least one more before they write the last one.

Is there a rule that characters cant be developed separately from action scenes?
Isn't that what the article had suggested be tried?

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wdarcy
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Re: cockroach races

Postby wdarcy » Wed Sep 06, 2017 7:25 pm

[quote="Pat James"]

Is there a rule that characters cant be developed separately from action scenes?
Isn't that what the article had suggested be tried?[/quote]

Of course there is no such rule. But action doesn't necessarily imply car chases and shootouts. A domestic scene between husband and wife, perhaps some sort of quiet disagreement, can develop character, create tension, and move the story forward. The article spoke only about "spending time with the characters," which sounds pretty flat to me. But again, if he could give an example of such a cockroach race from a best-selling novel, I could understand better what he meant.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.


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