Monday, July 16, 2007

Signal from Fred

As I’ve been going through the manuscript of Romancing the Dead (or, as I call it in my mind Dead on Arousal), I’m particularly struck by the fact that I’ve committed one of the Turkey City Lexicon prose structure faux pas: “signal from Fred.”

Signal from Fred, apparently coined by Damon Knight, is defined as, “a comic form of the ‘Dischism’ in which the author's subconscious, alarmed by the poor quality of the work, makes unwitting critical comments: ‘This doesn't make sense.’ ‘This is really boring.’ ‘This sounds like a bad movie.’” Except in my case, because I didn’t know why my antagonist was after my protagonist, I continually had him avoid answering her direct questions. She’d say, “Why are you following me?” He’d reply with something cryptic that didn’t really advance the plot, like, “Because I’m after something.” Oh, really, Mr. Bad Guy, you’re AFTER something, I never would have guessed! And what could it be? “Uh,” he says, “something. Something IMPORTANT.”

Yeah, like that.

For pages.

It’s amazing to me that my editor didn’t look at this crap and call me on it. I guess, in a way she did, but she was much more subtle about it than I would have been in her place. She very nicely reminded me that I’m a fine writer and then told me there were problems with the pacing. I realized, of course, while trying to figure out how to get into the plot more quickly that all this artful dodging around the antagonist’s motives was slowing things to a snail’s pace.

Because it’s astounding how much time you can waste not answering questions and getting to the point. And, of course, the protagonist can’t exactly “protag” unless she knows what she’s fighting.

Bleah.

Back to the untangling.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why does the antagonist's motives have to make sense? Just give her/him something, even if it's insane. After all, there are stalkers in real life who have not had any encouragement from the stalkee, for example. People shoot at each other because of being cut off in traffic. It could even be as simple as, you wore the same outfit as me to that party, so you are an Evil Bitch Who Must Die. I've seen that, both in fiction and RL.
Magenta

ryan v said...

Good luck with the fixing, Lyda! :)

But villains are more interesting they have motivation! What can I say, I love a good strong villain.

This is actually one of the problems, among ...many..., I had with my first full length novel.

But it's not published, and nowhere near it, so I guess I have more time to fight with all of it? Or something.

tate said...

I'll answer for my alter-ego... The antagonist doesn't have to have a motive that makes sense, but since mine eventually did (when I figured out what it was) what I needed to do was get to it faster, you know? The signal from Fred was that I didn't know at the time and thus kept writing around the issue until I did know. :-)

Oh, and ryan v. -- good luck with your w.i.p.

Sean M. Murphy said...

I don't know, Magenta. I think if you're going to have it be compelling, it should be understandable. Not, I want to be very clear, that it has to be logical, just that there has to be a sort fo sense to it. Confronting a character's twisted sense of logic often makes them more creepy, more alien to us. They make sense, in their own warped way, and feeling your mind have to adjust to that skewed logic can be a trip in and of itself.

Besides: No one, in their own mind, is the antagonist. They're just misunderstood.

lydamorehouse said...

I tend to agree, Sean. I like villians who are actually more like real people, and most people don't think of themselves as been illogical, even when they are.