30 Nov

WCAD Walkthrough: Chapters 17 & 18

Subjects touched upon herein: Act II, point of view, bare naked old ladies covered in tomato sauce, professional jargon, echoes, foreshadowing, and stage-2 gardening.

SpoilerWarning

It’s all fun and games until somebody loses

Welcome to Act II, where Ben and Tally have decided to be together, so everything is awesome and they live happily ever after, the end!

LOLJK. It may look like they’re working toward a common goal so it should be smooth sailing from here on out, but I’m afraid their problems have just begun.

Every character who gets point-of-view scenes should be telling their own story, which — unless they’re mind readers — is the only story they know. This necessitates that each character who gets point-of-view scenes has a story. Every story starts with a story-worthy problem. Ben’s problem is that he’s not over this girl he’s always loved, and he doesn’t really want to be. Tally’s problem is that she’s not over this boy she’s always loved, and she still can’t see any way for them to be together.

They both have other problems, too, but those are secondary to their relationship because this story is a romance.

Because no two characters should be the same, no two characters should start in the same place and march in tandem to the same stopping point. How do you unify separate stories into one cohesive unit instead of making novella hash? Common ground.

On an epic scale, characters from every walk of life can be linked by a world state, such as war or natural disaster or cuttlefish apocalypse or simple spatial proximity. The field hand who unearths a child’s skeleton while plowing has just as much of a story as the king who buried the body a decade earlier — even if those two never encounter each other, their stories are connected by the death of that child. And then there’s the child’s story, and the story of the person seeking truth and justice, and…

On a more intimate scale, such as in a romance, unity is achieved when his problem and her problem intersect and entwine to become their problem. If they decide at that point to work together and communicate and compromise to arrive at a resolution to their problem, that would be inspiring in its maturity and boring as hell to read because stories are made out of conflict. “They lived happily ever after” is always immediately followed by “The End” because everyone knows happy lives aren’t entertainment.

What would prevent characters who aren’t too stupid to live from working out their mutual problem like sensible adults? The main obstacle to the relationship might be an external conflict that puts them in competition for an unsharable mutual goal that only one can win (a job, the last slice of cheesecake). They might feel differently about the mutual goal (he wants to destroy the ancient amulet, she wants to use its power to become the ruler of the world and show these motherfuckers how it should be done) and though they have to work together to reach it, they can’t trust each other because neither intends to let the other triumph, and they both know it. Even when they want the same thing, they don’t want the same thing — “I, Charlie, want the last golden ticket” is not the same as “I, Millicent, want the last golden ticket.”

Ben has decided he wants to be with Tally… for the long haul. Tally has decided she wants to be with Ben… for the rest of the week. Their plans for today may be skipping along hand in hand, but their visions of the future are not the same, and when they crash into that obstacle, it will break them — and that will signal the arrival of Act III.

The wisdom of King Solomon

Ben is going to encounter more of the hostility toward Tally than Tally is. Why? “Same shit, different day.” She’s not going to be shocked and pissed off when somebody from Westard is a dick to her because she’s used to it. He has the stronger reaction to the stimulus, so he gets to experience it.

That’s how the point-of-view character in a scene should always be decided. The only time the POV character should be observing someone having a strong reaction is if the POV character will be having an even stronger reaction to that person’s reaction (a villain getting off on the mayhem unfolding under his orchestration, a parent feeling deep satisfaction at a child’s delight with a gift because who’s the favorite parent now, be-yotch?).

The POV character provides emotional cues to the reader. If the POV character is indifferent about what’s going on, the reader will be, too, and that is a huge storytelling failure.

The POV character can certainly be outwardly indifferent. There’s a vast cool-customer demographic in fiction. The lawman criminals dread being hunted by and the group leader in the cuttlefish apocalypse and the grand poobah of the free world can’t be having emotional outbursts every five minutes (unless it’s supposed to be a comedy). But inwardly, they should be struggling with fear and doubt and ethics and relationships and so forth. The reader should see that struggle, even if none of the other characters can.

Back in Chapter 16, Tally was basically paralyzed for most of the scene. Ben and her dad were doing a lot more, but inwardly, Ben was being his usual accommodating self, and her dad was only mildly concerned about her behavior. Tally, on the other hand, was ashamed of her behavior, so she won the battle for emotional supremacy and got to wear the POV crown for that scene, despite not being very physically involved in most of it.

WCAD almost exclusively adheres to a Ben/Tally scene pattern — not out of worship of the form, although it is frequently beneficial to get differing perspectives on the same event while it’s relatively fresh in everybody’s minds. A pretty strict alternating POV just happened to work chronologically with their respective reaction scenes, but in the two instances it didn’t work (Chapters 22 and 38), I didn’t hesitate to break the pattern by giving Tally two scenes in a row. (I’d been using scenes as chapters up to that point but didn’t split those Tally-Tally scenes because I didn’t want to force a double-take on readers by challenging all those previous chapters of conditioning that a chapter break signifies a POV change.)

Easter eggs

Horcrux? Bathing in the blood of innocents? A strange accident involving an irrational particle accelerator?

Methods of achieving “immortality” utilized by, respectively, Voldemort, Elizabeth Báthory, and Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged — references that would be more easily accessible in Ben’s filing cabinet of the bizarre and macabre than something prosaic like “taking the waters at Bath.”

“Skinny dipping with her childhood sweetheart, Juan Ponce de León, in the sweet hot tub at his pad in Florida” was briefly entertained as an option. Though a 500-year-old couple skinny dipping could very well qualify as macabre, it didn’t quite fit with the aesthetic.

Besides, forcing Ben to think about Mrs. Hagen naked might have caused him to drop dead on the spot, and I wasn’t done with him yet.

Egg the Second: It’s easy peasy to make your own pizza sauce. If I’m in a huge hurry, I will just smear tomato paste on a parbaked crust, sprinkle seasoning over it, and hope for the best. If I have an extra two minutes, I’ll mix it in a bowl to make sure the garlic and oregano are well distributed and to taste. I prefer it to jarred sauce because (a) it doesn’t have extra grease in it (and I’m deeply concerned about the fat content underlying the two pounds of mozzarella I pile on top…) and (b) it provides all the flavor (which “just use less sauce” deprives you of) with none of the sloppiness that makes the crust soggy and drips down your arm while you’re eating.

Vocabulary lessons for the sheltered

She’ll be clocking in some drunk frat boy’s face before you know it.

“Clocking” is a bit of floor work in which the performer reclines, elbows on the floor, back arched, knees up, toes pointed, slowly circles one foot like the sweep-second hand of a clock, raises both legs straight, and spreads them to 10 and 2 (or 9 and 3, depending upon degree of flexibility).

Stop hitting yourself

  • When Ben showed up at his mom’s door in Chapter 5, he implied she was a “grumpy witch.” Now she says, “… and contrary to popular belief, I don’t know any witchcraft.”
  • In Chapter 7, Ben asks his mom if she gets a discount on her satellite because her TV doesn’t show the whole picture. In Chapter 17, she asks him if he gets a discount on his fancy phone because it’s a paperweight in Westard. (In other words, “Sass not, lest ye be sassed.”)
  • Ben keeps using the word siege. He’s aware Tally perceives any kind of advance, even a question, as an attack, and he hates being the enemy.

Omens, portents, and prophecies, oh my

There will still be foreshadowing  in Act II, but most of the potential was established in Act I, and the shift now will be toward paying off what was previously set up.

  • Mom’s ratty slippers — they’ve been mentioned more than once; expect those to be more significant than ordinary lounge footwear
  • “Second chances are the universe’s way of saying, ‘Sorry about the last time. Try again because it’s meant to be.'” — expect Ben’s thematic optimism to not play well with Tally’s perpetual sense of doom
  • Gas, or lack thereof, was becoming a recurrent problem. — expect that not to be the last of Ben’s fuel problems

Tending sprouts

  • The lunch ladies were mentioned in the state-of-the-reunion address in Chapter 1 — now, Norma called him a sweet boy when he offered his condolences on Doug’s passing, and Sheila fussed over his hair. They’re not of earthshattering significance, but the people in Janine’s life and her job are reasons she’s unwilling to leave Westard, so it’s worthwhile to show a glimpse of those things.
  • In Chapter 2’s walkthrough, I told you to expect somebody to get a pizza, and in Chapter 4’s, I told you to expect the circling eagle to land eventually — now Jules (the circler) is in the bakery, trading excess garden yield for food (which is how the bakery comes by its produce section, which is one of the little leads I didn’t bother calling out), and making pizza under Tally’s tutelage.
  • Two nights earlier, Know-It-Tal invited Ben to teach the anatomy lesson if he didn’t think she was doing a good job — now she’s touchy (in the other sense of the word) with Jules for questioning her pizza-making directions. She hears “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” as “You don’t know what you’re doing,” and gets defensive because criticism quickly escalated to violence with her mother.
  • Two nights earlier, Tally belatedly realized there were multiple options other than driving Ben to get gas — now she unnecessarily puts herself in sparring range with Julie because it doesn’t occur to her to either lock her out or leave her out in front like a customer, which are the options she ordinarily would have gone with. She blames her poor decisions on being slow on the draw ever since Ben got to town. Actually, she’s instinctively lunging at what she needs (contact with people she cares about) and starting to slow down her customary “this is the one solution” decisions long enough to think about other options.
  • Two nights earlier, Ben mentioned bumps on Tally’s ribs — now Tally points out they’re the result of broken ribs.
  • Last time Ben got in her pants, she was embarrassed about wearing cheap undies — this time, she’s prepared in advance for a debriefing.

That feels positively anemic compared the past couple of posts. Deposit iron supplements and/or questions below. Otherwise, moving on to Chapter 19.

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