I like efficiency.
Who doesn’t? Well, I must admit, my passion for efficiency has gotten me in trouble. I’ve spent so much time plotting the best way to do a project that I wind up with no time to start it. Or I’ve tried to make one trip with my bags of grocery, and found that by the time I finished picking up the dropped items from split bags, I could have made three trips. Striving for efficiency isn’t always the most efficient way to do things.
But still, the little German stereotype in my heart loves something that does two or three jobs at the same time. And a piece of writing that does two or three things is really a piece of beauty.
Take, for example, the opening line of MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed. “The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry.” It sets the tone pretty quickly – humor, supernatural (most people who have died aren’t speaking to us anymore) and something that suggests a person not in control of his or her destiny.
Scenes can do more than one thing, too. The scene that illustrates the turning point or the end of an act of a story probably SHOULD be doing more than one thing. Lois McMaster Bujold has a dinner party scene in A Civil Campaign that accomplishes a whole bunch of stuff at once. It evokes humor, sympathy and pain. It introduces characters who previously didn’t know each other. It promotes the hero’s political career while at the same time wrecking his budding courtship. It provides the seed for what could wreck his political career, it destroys the plans of several minor characters, and it also leaves his house infested with butterbugs. And yet, it reads like a dream.
Even my little blog post can do more than two things at once. I’m busy reflecting on efficiency, when actually I started out to talk about Abraham Lincoln, who is having a birthday in February. I am not sure, but Abraham Lincoln might also have a big role in my book – my characters are having a seance the night before his birthday . . . to tell the truth, I didn’t really care who they were going to summon. I wanted the scene to be a conflict among the living. But it just so happens that my story is set during a blizzard in February, and it also happens that Lincoln’s wife was into spiritualism, and that Lincoln may have jokingly held a seance in the White House . . . . So, my big challenge is to do all the things I need to do to get my characters ready for the final act, and also figure out what Abraham Lincoln is doing there.
I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s going to work out. And I hope I figure out how to tell this efficiently . . . . May the Goddess of Writing grant me the patience to realize that the process is going to be anything but efficient.
How about you? Any stories about how the long way around a story problem worked out to be the most efficient way after all?