Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Write Wednesday: Depth (Internal vs. External Action)

Welcome back to Write Wednesday!  I'm delving into somewhat of a complicated topic, so I can't promise extreme clarity or new revelations, but it's something I have been thinking about lately as I craft my own novels and see the product of others' writing.

I am going to cheat a little and talk about a TV show (GASP) *but* it's about the writing, so...give me a pass.

Having now consumed a large quantity of British telly (and some UK-inspired writing like The Chaos Walking Trilogy), there's an incredible depth to the writing that just doesn't make it over here.  Americans want to simplify *everything* -- most stories here are surface-only because we're so bent on getting more action packed in and I think that's rather sad (Not that there isn't a place for action -- I love me a good spy thriller or action movie.  It's just that I think there could be a mix).

Meanwhile, in the UK, we have layers upon layers of complex emotions, relationships, thoughts, beliefs, and choices.  The merest glint in a character's eyes changes the story.  There isn't so much external action as there is internal action.  I'm fascinated by this difference and I've decided that I much prefer the internal action.

For instance -- the show I'm watching right now, in the first sixteen episodes (two series), discusses morality, religion, relationships (familial, romantic and friend), addiction, chronic illness, rape/attempted rape/abuse, murder, the afterlife, having children, science, ethics, loneliness, anger, choices, consequences, history (on a large and small scale), gang violence, terrorism, small town attitudes, and philosophy (mostly nihilism/existentialism).  And it's not spelled out for you.  The lives of the characters are so entangled that in one episode you've probably got gang violence, terrorism, morality/philosophy/ethics and relationships plus choices and consequences and religious beliefs.  There's so much packed into one hour of television and the characters don't waste time with exposition.  It's all there in the action, facial expressions, physicality, and minimal dialogue.

One episode that really hit me hard was the one about a choice that one of the characters made and the consequences from it -- they struggled with an addiction, made a mistake and now have a permanent consequence that they have to live with.  He is trying so hard to do the right thing but he falls and it endangers his friends' lives.  And there's no easy answer.  It isn't simple.  He has to cope with helping someone else trying to shake an addiction and finally rejecting his help.  He has to carry the guilt of that forever.  At the same time, it reminds him why he keeps trying so hard to shake the addiction.  He tries to be better, and it is a day-by-day thing.  Without his friends, he wouldn't be able to stay strong for the long periods between his relapses.  It says something about the power of friendship, forgiveness, grace and redemption, and about the depravity of man, and something about hope.

But I haven't seen it done much like that in books -- excepting The Chaos Walking Trilogy, as I've mentioned above, and the Harry Potter books (and Rowling's latest, A Casual Vacancy).  Okay, I take that back -- I can think of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde, but I think I'm more talking about modern storytelling.

And the thing might be that I'm comparing novels, film and telly and you can't really compare the three.  They're so different stylistically and of course a novel doesn't have as much time to tell a story as a TV show.  Which is probably why I'm so keen on TV shows...serialized storytelling fascinates me.

I did read The Maximum Ride novels (8 books) and...yeah, they're more surface-y.  They do delve a bit but the emotions aren't what guide the story.  The depth, the before-the-story-starts character lives and the internal action just isn't there as much (But I still love Max).

So how can I include depth in my novels/screenplays?  How can I, an American, who is used to seeing bang-bang-shoot-em-ups (as my dad calls them) and action-packed 'cool' drama, insert the breadth and depth and width of human experience into that?  Can I even do that?  Is that why indie movies (who have small budgets) use *only* internal action to carry the story?  I really think you have to do both, which is what the TV show I talked about above does so well.

I think I *could* combine both elements (how well I could remains to be seen).

1.  I think it would have to be in a series (novel or TV), for starters.  There just isn't room to flesh everyone and everything out in one novel or film.

2.  This might say something about the type of writing I should start doing -- should I get into a screenwriting program somewhere?

3.  I think studying the TV shows I love show much will show me *what* to include, and watching stuff I don't care for as much will show me *what not* to include.  Taking lots of notes, processing (verbally or in writing), maybe reviewing...somehow turning that outside information inside.  Same goes for novels.

4.  Practicing writing and conversing with my beta readers will help me understand if I'm hitting the mark or not.

What do you think about the external vs. internal action?  Are there books/TV shows that have one or both of these that you love?  Got any suggestions for me?

See you Friday for First Lines!

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