– I can’t read for more than 10 minutes at a time. It’s exhausting.
– Some of the sequences left me really feeling the pain the main character felt.
– Stop hurting him and give him some happy times.
So what is flashbang? I can think of two corollaries. One- Michael Bay. *shudders*. Two- an overexcited American teenage girl delivering just a little content with a lot of verby enthusiasm- ‘so like, there was us two guys, and oh my gosh, it was amazing, like, you guys, it was sooo freakin awesome, you know, and like…’
I write like that?
The point is…
Sort of, though not quite like that. The point is that it is tiring. In my writing it has been a gravitation towards pain, suffering, explosions, and the extreme end of conflict. There are whole forests of superlative adjectives, great oceans filled with blood, volcanic eruptions of violence.**
And in all that the smaller bits and pieces that make a story palatable, enjoyable, and something you can relax into probably get lost. While the main character is gritting his teeth bravely through the horrific torture or slogging his way with one arm shattered and swollen up the side of a mountain, we the readers are leaning back and going ‘phew’. And if that is the majority of the writing, that level of fever pitch flashbangery is maintained throughout, surely we stop believing in any of it.
Life is just not that intense all the time. It would be inhuman. Most of the time there are calm moments, and we laugh, joke, love quietly, even have quiet simmering conflict. We don’t every day have the apex of emotional experience.
Why so much blood?
So why do I write like this? I suspect it’s a few things-
1- Something to do with the way I sit down to write. I put on some intense post-rock music, flex my fingers, then for a few hours do battle with the keyboard. I’m always looking to top whatever came last, and the frantic pace I write at coupled with the gravitas of the music doesn’t leave much room for mellow thoughts.
I can fix this part by changing the music I listen to. What I need is some good classical music, with a range of variations and emotional peaks and troughs. Pop music with lyrics is too distracting. I can also just make the effort to slow the pace down a bit, and include the little bits that make life worth living. Spread the flashbang moments further and further out.
2- The fact I don’t plan out my story. Now, of course I have a loose plan- bad guy, conflict, quest for something, etc… But until the story is written, I just can’t hash out a sturdy structure to follow. This results in every scene potentially being a big scene, so I write as if there’s no tomorrow. I write the hell out of that scene. I put it all on the line every time. And that’s fine for me, it’s my moment of intensity each day. But for the reader leap-frogging from scene to scene in a matter of minutes, it must become too rich, dense, cloying, to be able to stomach. Like eating only caviar every day, for every meal. Ugh.
I can fix this in the second/third draft. At that stage I know the structure of the book, and know where the high points should be, and where they shouldn’t be. So that’s what I’m doing now, in the rewrite. The first section of Dawn, that began life as a few pages saying in a tell style basically- ‘he grew up and got some awesome close friends’ is now ballooning to 40, 50, or more pages. There are lots more slow moments (I think). More gradual escalation of emotion. More bits of humor and reality. Hopefully I can fix it in future novels by just bearing it in mind. We don’t need intensity all the time. Fun times and gradual development work better.
And in the process…
In the process of doing this, padding out my character’s arc-ends with middles and beginnings, I get to know them more. I get to care about them more. When they run up against a problem they can’t fix and they can’t beat, I care for them more. It sets up a conflict gap they will long to bridge, and makes me root for them as they struggle to bridge it.
In the flashbang style, every time they came up against trouble it was like a finale, and they were already ready to up the stakes, and simply by upping the stakes they were able to overcome. But of course not everything should be a finale. Most should be a slow ramp up, filled with ups and downs. Overall it should make the characters more real, more funny, more fun to be with. And not exhausting. Like, oh my gosh, whatever.
**- That’s a little flashbang right there.