So here we are. Week Three, innit it? Bit of pain in the ass, this one. Some folks call it the wasteland. Some call it the weeds.
I call it dirty things you wouldn’t call your wife, unless it was the Special “Diceless Roleplay” Weekend.
Too much info? Right, moving on.
It’d be easy for me to say you’re stuck, but it’s also not quite right. You’re flailing around, sure, and mud’s flying up in every damn direction, and you really can’t see where you’re going cuz it’s all up on the windshield and christ your dad’s gonna be pissed unless you can get it to a carwash before he sees it, but you’re not stuck-stuck; you’re moving, but it’s sluggish, and you’re starting to worry that if you keep going the way you’re going, you really WILL be stuck.
You need a big goddamn boost to get out.
Let’s talk about Bangs.
Those of you who’ve read the stuff I write about gaming have heard me talk about Bangs before, in the context of gaming.
Put simply (and in writing rather than gaming terms), a “Bang” is when a scene introduces some sort of event or piece of information that requires a choice from one of your characters, and you don’t already know what they’re gonna choose.
Let me break that criteria down one more time:
- Something happens that cannot be ignored and which requires some sort of response.
- You’re not entirely sure what your protag is going to decide to do.
And example from my NaNoWriMo project:
I’m at about 30k words. There’s been a lot of talking going on, and it’s time to shake stuff up a bit. Per my own advice, I attack the scene with genre-appropriate ninjas. This situations creates a Bang (fine: “decision point” if you must) for Finnras:
- Return to the ship, where Deirdre is in danger from the G.A.N.s.
- Continue onward in pursuit of his daughter, abandoning Deirdre and other members of his crew to their own fate.
A couple key things to pick up from this kind of event:
- It put things into motion.
- You learn something you didn’t know (or weren’t entirely sure of) about the character.
These are both pretty good boosts for getting out of the muck, and they also have a fairly good chance of propelling the story in unexpected and interesting directions that will give you a boost of enthusiasm and energy — enough to power through to the end of the story.
For reference, here are a couple types of Bangs I’ve used in the past, broken out with labels decreed by a Mike Holmes, from whom I learned a lot of this stuff.
Dilemma: This is like the example I mentioned from my current story. You just grab two Important Things and make up a situation that forces a decision between those two things. Finding the Important Things is pretty easy – take what you know or think you know about the character, pick two things that seem to be roughly equal in importance, and set up a situation where they have to pick between the two. Note: this sort of event can result in the character losing the thing they didn’t choose, but this isn’t necessary, and it might be better (read: more incredibly awkward and painful for the character at a later point in time) if that doesn’t happen.
Be aware that you character may decide to pull a Batman and change the situation: they don’t accept that they can’t get one thing without losing the other, so they put a third thing at risk, trying to save both of the original things. This is awesome. Go with it.
Escalation: this is essentially hitting the same choice as a previous Dilemma, but upping the stakes. Basically, you take the unselected option from a previous dilemma and make it more important or more endangered. Let’s say Finn goes with “I have to follow my daughter,” because the threat to his crew isn’t that concrete and they’re actually pretty competent people. In an escalation, I can come back to that later and set up a scene like “okay, the crew is now captured, and they’re totally gonna die/go to jail for a million years/vote republican… or you can go after your daughter.
Identity Crisis: Do I need an example of this? Really? Okay…
“Luke, I am your father.”
There. Someone thinks they’re one thing, and they find out they’re something or someone else. Hit em with the Sith Lord Daddy and stand back to see what happens.
Something Totally Weird: Exactly what it sounds like. Something really weird happens which can’t be ignored because it’s so… weird. With no particular clue about a solution, what we learn about the character (hopefully) is how they try to address the event.
Ninja! So you’re kind of out of moral dilemmas, but you still need to get the action going. For this, I give the floor to Reverend Raymond Chandler:
Have somebody come in guns blazing, and figure out who they are later.
Does your guy fight or run? Do they freeze? Are there innocents to protect? Valuable stuff that needs to be kept from harm? Watch, learn, and write it down.
Don’t have ninjas in your story? Dude, everyone has ninjas.
… and that’s it.
Get back to work.