Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Bolt Saves The Day - But Loses His Audience

Recently my daughter sat me down for us to have a bonding session while watching Bolt. The film starts with Bolt the dog and his owner escaping from terrible dangers, Bolt has super powers, and it was all very exciting - baddies shooting guns from helicopters, blowing up bridges, that sort of stuff - but it didn't really hold my attention. Then about ten minutes in, the director calls "Cut!" and it's revealed that actually they're making a film. The real story isn't about thrilling escapes, it's about Bolt discovering that he doesn't really have super powers, but still manages to save the day.

The opening of Bolt demonstrated something that I'd learned on Another Woman's Husband: we need to know characters before we care what happens to them. It doesn't matter how dramatic or noisy or extreme the action is, if we don't know, we don't care. I don't want to sound disrespectful, but while I'm shocked by what's happened in Haiti, and like everyone I've donated money, I haven't lost sleep over it. I don't know any of those poor people personally so I can only care in the abstract.

Originally, Another Woman's Husband started with Becca's mother, June, announcing that after fifty years of marriage she's decided to leave Becca's father, Frank. It's a dramatic moment, and shocking for Becca. But as the reader doesn't know Becca, or June, or Frank, the reader couldn't care less. So the novel now starts at June and Frank's golden wedding anniversary party so the reader sees all the main characters in a happy, normal setting, gets to know them and hopefully cares a little about them before June makes her announcement.

One of the standard 'rules' about writing is to start in the middle of things - in media res - but sometimes you have to start just before then, or the reader is as indifferent as I was to Bolt's heroics.


Blossom said...

Hi Sarah,

This is a very pertinent post for me.

Ever since my wip was but a very first thought it was always going to start with a prologue. Something big would happen to the main character but as she wasn't in this scene she wouldn't know.

A few weeks ago I thought, hang on – this is Kitty's story she should lead it. So I've changed it so the reader has three pages to get to know Kitty before the big thing that drives the plot happens.

Hope It's right! After reading and rereading new start countless times, it now feels right.


Sarah Duncan said...

I'm not a fan of prologues so I'd say you've done the right thing and for the right reasons. No wonder it feels right!

ATB sarah