Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teen Soaps or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Wattpad.

I flaked out on my blogging duties yesterday, I know. But hey, it was labour day after all. And even writers deserve a break now and again, don't they?

But it's not as though I was camping or laying somewhere on a beach. Instead, I was cleaning for an inspection of my rental later this week and packing for my move later this month. Fun stuff. And while I packed, I decided to entertain myself during the mundane task with Netflix.

Having finished both seasons of The Mindy Project, I decided to move onto watching Pretty Little Liars. It's a show I've never watched before, and it caught my eye because I thought it might help me with this young adult epic fantasy I've been working on as a side project (THE project) and posting on Wattpad. You know, understand the modern teenage mind or something.

It's a boring show. It's little more than a teen soap. The characters are popular girl types that I'd never be able then or now to relate to, and there's far too many loaded silences for my taste. On top of that, there's isn't a single alien or robot or dystopia or vampire to make it more exciting (hey, Buffy was my teen soap. Big surprise. Maybe I should just rewatch that show?)

So anyways, I'm packing and half paying attention to the show in the background when one of the four main characters gets run down by a car late at night. She does that Hollywood topple-over-the-car thing before falling to the ground. And her friends run over to her and say things like, "call 911!" and "she's not breathing!" and crouch beside her in this overly drawn-out moment and I'm thinking, "these characters are supposed to be over-achievers. Is there not one in there group who took first responders or first aid or something? One of them's a swimmer for bleep's sake!"

And then the episode ended. I didn't get to find out whether the one friend was okay or vehicular manslaughtered or what. It was the most exciting thing that had happened for 10 episodes, and I was going to have to continue my Netflix binge (or originally, tune in next week) to find out what happened.

And that's when it dawned on me. Weekly episodes, soap operas, cliff hangers. Serialization. I've been approaching this whole Wattpad business all wrong. It's just stories I'm posting, it's not just a novel. It's a serialization.
Public domain: United States

But until now, I'd been thinking 18th, 19th century serialization. I'd been thinking about Charles Dickens or Mark Twain or any other author who, back in the day when those things were popular, would publish stories in weekly newspaper columns. But the thing about it is this: those stories now exist as whole novels. And to read them, it isn't always obvious where the natural stopping points for each weekly episode would be (or maybe it is and I'm just a bit thick). It isn't obvious how the writers kept their readers coming back for more week after week. But in many serialized TV dramas (as opposed to episodic ones like I dunno, House, that have a formula and repeat it with slight differences ad nauseam), it is obvious. The ongoing story is punctuated by high drama moments that don't give all the answers away until you tune in next week.

It's so simple, but it seems like for me my insights always are. I walk around in a fog for weeks on end trying to figure out how to figure out an intractable problem. And then suddenly the last little piece falls into place and everything is crystal clear.

At least until the next problem presents itself.

I could go on about how one of the most challenging and unexpectedly pleasurable parts of writing fiction is the constant problem solving. But instead I'll just say that it seemed to work. Pretty Little Liars actually did give me an insight. Not the one I was looking for, but one that is far more productive and can be applied to any story really. I've had the advice before: don't end your chapters on a boring note: don't wrap everything up neatly and move on to the next scene. But as much as I've intellectualized it, I've never realized it -- never felt it as thoroughly as I do now.

So it's to my desk now! To rework all sorts of material that I've already written or have yet to write. Hooray! I feel reinvigorated and ready to work work work! :)