marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

distillation of drama

You want to show your action. You don't send the hero into the labyrinth of monsters, and have your characters peer at it and wonder if he will make it out alive and then have him appear at the top of the central tower. Go with him. Show every dramatic battle, pitfall, and attempt to find his way.

Except -- sometimes you don't want to.

I first analyzed it in a Doctor Who episode. The Doctor's companions hid in a room. A frustrated villain looked about and shot his gun, several times, before leaving. The camera panned around and -- one of them had been shot in the shoulder. And looked in considerable pain. And had kept quiet the whole time. Which you learned in a fraction of a second -- and I was gasping, and so was everyone else in the room.

'Cause drama is partly a matter of timing. The more quickly you can reveal information, the more dramatic it can be. And if you set the situation up right, you can reveal an entire complex of motives and actions and decisions in a single moment when you reveal what someone did with a single act, or indeed consequence.

J. R. R. Tolkien used it to conceal knowledge; we do not realize that the ships are under Aragorn's command until the troops at Gondor do: when the flag unfurls. (Lucky for us, Legolas and Gimli come from cultures where telling tales of great deeds is a common art, so we hear about the Paths of the Dead.)

Leaving aside it's not being cinematic, following Han Solo's decision to return and help Luke after all would not be as dramatic what we actually got: his just opening fire and revealing all.

And in G. K. Chesterton's The Return of Don Quixote, Michael Herne learns everything of what the Honourable Rosamund Severne has been up to -- actions that took months -- in a matter of maybe a minute. Down to the knowledge that after he revealed that her family was really the Smiths and had dubious claim to the title, she changed her name to Miss Smith.

It seems to work best when it's not the main character. A POV character, perhaps, but not the hero. You can elide over bits and pieces of what the hero does in preparation -- Jim Butcher's Turn Coat has Dresden and another character identifying a photo but we only learn when he reveals it to the White Council -- but this technique doesn't work as well for them.
Tags: conflict, dramatic tension, plotting, point of view, story structure, writing technique

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