Friday, October 11, 2019

Explosions as Plot Devices

Marcella stares hard at the gauntlet laying at her feet. She nods and picks it up. If you read Jeffe Kennedy's Sunday post, you may have noted that she mentioned I defend explosions as plot devices. It's true. I've said that often. It's my own lame attempt at a joke, as well as an attempt to give stuck writers (especially me) permission to escape what feels like a dead end story loop. Don't know how to resolve a scene/section of your book? Fine. Blow something up and move on. Give yourself that permission. Nine times out of ten, that random act of silliness will move you past boxed-in thinking and you'll get back to focusing on the narrative arc. Once that happens, you're likely to solve the plot/character arc problem that I suggested solving with the placeholder explosion. So there you are. Tacit permission to use fireballs as a means to distract yourself when you're stuck. This is by no means permission to light your entire manuscript on fire, however. The flames stay in the words you put on the page. Only rule.

I can't disguise the fact that I love blowing stuff up. In fiction. I don't think there's a book or story I've written yet where a hero or heroine doesn't bomb something. Thus the joke about explosions as plot devices. However, I'm a character driven writer rather than a plot driven writer. That means that plot comes from who my characters are, what their wounds and fears are, and what challenges they need to face in order to become better versions of themselves. If they're going to. So when I talk about explosions, whether literal or metaphorical, not only am I writing a fight scene, sex scene, political struggle scene, or sabotage scene that destroys an object or objects in a story, the action of the scene must also destroy my protagonist in some vital way. I'm either shattering arrogance or confidence or trust or defenses. Or possibly, I'm shattering a character's view of themselves as incompetent. Whatever it is. Every explosion has to have corpses. I'm just bloodthirsty enough that while there may be actual dead bodies on the ground or floating in space, there's also some aspect of the MC that dies at the same time.

A fight has to have a point and I'm happiest if that point skewers good guys and bad guys in some way all in one go. So in that regard, the only good explosion (plot device) is one that ends up with unforeseen collateral damage. I love walking my characters right up to what they imagine is their strong suit, having them deploy it to devastating effect, only to have them discover that their most prized weapon cut them in some vital way, too.

Damn it. I can't believe I'm sitting here effectively arguing for 'cost of magic' when the whole notion in fantasy offends me. But it is what I'm doing. Crap. 'Cost of magic' is the notion that every talent your protagonist possesses comes at a cost. Where does the energy for magic (or explosions or ability to pilot a spaceship) come from and how does that impact your MC and the people around them? It makes sense from a physics standpoint - every action having that equal and opposite reaction. It's just that in fiction, we get to widen our definition of equal and opposite reaction. In fact, I think we have to. I can write reams about the physics of recoil in space, but that's far less interesting than the recoil inside my characters or inside the structures they've built in their lives. It's far more interesting to me to have a character blow up a bad guy's hide out and discover she's also unwittingly blown up her rocky relationship with her dad.

So this is me, hugging my explosions tight, and saying, "Yeah, but EMOTIONS." I'm defending the right to blow things up. Just remember to scorch the eyebrows off whoever lit the fuse.