Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Art of the KA-BOOM!

Sometimes it’s challenging to keep my Deerhunter’s attention. Granted he is a busy guy, and we do check in with each other, but it feels at times, I’m getting the catch up on him and not really me. This is normal, I believe, with phone calls. One member is always the one with the better stories, and I admit where Deerhunter is concerned, nine times out of ten, he has the better story. He’s the talker.


I also grant you that my stories are a bit repetitive. I go to the same job, I deal with the same people who do the same crazy shit, and I go home, eat, and lie on my couch and read. And when I’m not doing those things, I’m sleeping. This is my ordinary life. It’s not Lara Croft’s life, but I like it. Deerhunter has neighbors and friends and meetings and coworkers—and he’s always saving a life in his stories. As I said, on the phone, one of the talkers is always the more entertaining one and in my case, it is not me.


However, Friday I had a story. And I wanted to tell it. Our conversation went as it usually did—he saved another life—and he was about to wish me good day and don’t shoot anyone at work, and I realized, he was going to hang up without my story!


I cast about quickly to figure out a way to get his attention back and said, “Okay, darling, but when you call me tomorrow like you usually do, you probably won’t get me because I’ll be talking to the cops.”




Deerhunter stopped his mid-goodbyes. “Excuse me? Why would you need to talk to the cops?”


“Oh, well, I’ll be at the farm, which is why I’ll be out of range. The cops are for Dad. He has been the target for some elderly scams.” And what proceeded was a series of gives and takes, where I told just enough to be interesting, but not too many details that would make him want to hang up again. He talked to me for an extra five minutes or better as I explained the circumstances and what was going on, and then he said, “Call me after and keep me up to date of what is going on.”


And I hung up and realized I had done to him what I should be doing to keep readers turning my pages—and that I haven’t been doing that as well lately. I need more KA-BOOMS! and less ordinary life over and over that we already know and understand. We need to find the slant in the ordinary and make it memorable and captivating. And if I can make it memorable and captivating, I’m going to have requests to keep readers updated on what happens next, no matter what.


The author who does my favorite KA-BOOMS! is Julie Garwood because she definitely does her best to make the beginning a simple innocuous statement, then a middle of ordinary life staged perfectly, and then, KA-BOOM. You turn the page while your mouth is still hanging open. She is the Queen of the Awesome KA-BOOM.


However, I know it’s not an unique technique. In fact, as rules goes for writing, I’d say KA-BOOMS are in the top five things to keep in mind when you’re writing.


I have established the first fifty pages of my manuscript (again, she says tiredly), and I’m realizing the KA-BOOMS aren’t there. I know this is because I have a Bad Habit of writing scenes like an episode of 24, assuming the reader wants to know what is going on every minute of the day. You don’t know how much work it takes to make me start a scene that starts a day later. You really don’t.


Of course, this does not mean I’ll be ditching my fifty pages in order to add more KA-BOOMS. No. Absolutely not. It just means, now I realize why I feel some of this is so boring.


Because it is.


But that’s okay, because that is what revision is for. Writing is supposed to show you what parts you’re having difficulty with this go around. And this time, I’m having more trouble with KA-BOOMS. So I will need to sit and think about this. Play with my storyboard, maybe outline a bit, and definitely scribble on some paper about ways to make my characters unhappy, uncomfortable, and with no choice but to grow up and learn from this experience—because isn’t that what great fiction does? It teaches us how to grow up and learn from the experience and be happier people for it. The KA-BOOM should be something that forces the character to do something he/she doesn't want to do, something that the reader knows the character doesn't want to do. So the first step is figuring out what will your character NOT do and then make it happen--that's conflict, that's a KA-BOOM! This is a circumstance that shows you can't have character without plot (conflict) or plot without character--rather like men and women. One is not greater than the other; and it takes both to make a great baby. :)


So…do you have a favorite KA-BOOM in a story? (My favorite KA-BOOM in a Julie Garwood story was when we found out the heroine was the pirate the hero was seeking to kill.) Do you have problems with making KA-BOOMS happen in your writing? What things do you do to keep your significant other’s attention when you’re telling them something important? What KA-BOOM are you working on right now in your WIP?


Quantum said...

I'm getting an education from this blog. First WOO WOO from Terri, now KA-BOOM. What's coming next week I wonder!

All the best serials on radio and TV end each episode with an event that leaves you puzzled, wanting to know what comes next. Its the KA-BOOM moment.

I don't think you need a KA-BOOM at the end of every chapter. That would be too exhausting. But a liberal spread throughout the book will get the reader anticipating whether the current chapter will have a KA-BOOM.

Though I reckon some readers (Janga?!) might be tempted to read the end of the chapters first!

Bosun said...

Way to call Janga out, Q. LOL! Very smoothly done.

Once upon a time I would have read this blog and thought, "I don't blow anything up! No one will want to read my stuff!!" Thank goodness I'm past that now. *whew* I think I have ka-boom moments. The part I revised last night was a little ka-boom. Enough to make the reader turn the page, I hope.

The heroine and hero (who didn't exactly get off on the right foot) form a fragile truce and the heroine is feeling good about things. Then she finds out hero was once engaged to a woman she refers to as "Cruella De Vil" and is a complete jackass hypocrit. And she plans to tell him so. Tomorrow.

That should keep the page turning. *g*

Bosun said...

Forgot to answer the other part. Christie Craig is the MASTER of the ka-boom. I don't even pick up her books anymore unless I intend to read it in one sitting. Impossible to put the book down! I don't know how she does it. It's like a gift. LOL!

Hellion said...

Q, that is a very good point! Don't put a KA-BOOM at every chapter ending because that is too exhausting. There are different ka-booms. I think the really big Ka-Booms are "turning points" which whenever I'm talking with Terri, we know what they are but have a hell of a time identifying them in our own story. *LOL*

So there are variances of Ka-Booms. Some are funny Ka-Booms. Some are UH-OH Ka-Booms! I realize the ka-booms I liked most from Julie Garwood as I mention are the funny light ones. Where she says something ironic at the end of the chapter and you know immediately to think, "That's not what's going to happen."

Of course, I think usually uses key words in the sentence, like "always" or "never", which is a big tip off that the complete opposite will happen. *LOL*

I'm glad you're finding our blogs informative. :) A girl always appreciates that. Next week might be a guest...I'm not sure...but I do know in February we will be writing blogs to "test drive" our class we'll be "teaching" in May online. We want to know what you think--how we can improve what information we'll be sharing with a new audience. :) Hopefully we'll be just as informative and entertaining. :)

Hellion said...

Bo'sun, you definitely have Ka-Boom moments. *LOL* Like when Joe walks into his mother's house and realizes the girl he met is his brother's fiance. KA-BOOM. *LOL*

And I definitely have to agree--Q did a brilliant job of calling out Janga. *LOL* Well done!

I'm glad you've "matured" as a writer not to take the KA-BOOMS at literal face value. Ka-booms are of course different to each book--but it's whatever shakes up the status quo, that devastates the hero/heroine. It doesn't have to be a ka-boom to you if it happened to you--but it definitely needs to be a ka-boom to them.

I also think ka-booms are more apparent when you figure out WHAT IS THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN TO THIS CHARACTER? and WHAT ARE 3 THINGS THIS CHARACTER HAS VOWED TO NEVER DO? They don't even have to be big things--just big to the character. And then find out that they have to do them because the outcome of not doing is actually worse.

I always have difficulty doing that, like I feel guilty for torturing fake people. I know other writers never mind torturing people. But I do! *LOL*

Janga said...

Q, I don't read the end of the chapters first, only the end of the book. And I just turned in a review of a book that had a KA-BOOM that would have made me throw the book in the trash had I not read the end first. So there! LOL

I think I did fairly well with the Ka-Booms in my first two books, but they feel less organic in the current WIP. Does a breakup count as a Ka-Boom?

I look forward to the "test drive," Hellie.

Bosun said...

I think that counts, Janga. And nice rebuttal. LOL!

There is the first ka-boom. Forgot about that one. I need to work on that other. Establish something about never breaking another's heart. Because that's what she has to do in the end.

Hellion said...

Bo'sun--exactly! See, you've got it! I knew you did!

Hellion said...

Janga, I can't wait to read your newest review. :) You know I do most of my book buying based on your reviews.

I would say a breakup is a ka-boom. And I agree that ka-booms should feel "organic" to the book, like a natural progression from what we know of the characters and how they react to the circumstances rather than vise versa. I'm sure it'll just take some tweaking. Sometimes it's just a matter of tweaking the motivation or sharing the motivation or internal thoughts of the characters that makes the difference to the action that occurs on the page. :)

Yeah! I'll be glad for your input of how to make my "teaching" better. (I cannot believe I wrote that sentence. Me, teaching. *shudders*)

Bosun said...

I was feeling good about the teaching business until my life exploded with water last week. Now my house is a shambles and it feels like I am too. LOL! WHEN am I going to work on those lessons?? (That's a rhetorical question. Just ignore me.)

Hellion said...

Well, look at it this way, you can draw on your life to put in your lessons. Conflicts by the circumstances beyond your control that rise up and keep compounding your life with more and more issues. You have lots of stuff to pull from.

Bosun said...

When you put it that way, I'm golden. LOL!

Marnee Bailey said...

I like that you call it Ka-Boom. LOL!! I call it a disaster. But only because I read that in a book. And a disaster doesn't have to be a physical thing.

I agree, Bo'sun does have Kaboom moments. :)

I also agree that you can catch this stuff in revisions. I don't think I've ever done a really serious revision before now. But this revisions has been making me wonder why I even stressed my first draft at all.

And also speaking of revisions, check out Susan Dennard's sites about revising. I think her process has lots of good stuff in it.

Hellion said...

Marn, I have heard it put as a disaster! *LOL* Goal, Motivation, Conflict, and Disaster... *LOL* It just ups the ante on the conflict. It's not enough you don't want to do it...or you're inconvenienced. It's gotta be some sort of figurative life or death.

I'm slowly coming to terms that real writing comes with the revisions. *LOL* As much as the first draft is difficult and we think that should be where the real writing lies, it's not. It's the revision. And drafts 3-10 are the real work of writing. *LOL* I feel an ugh coming, but there is hope. With every draft we see something better in the writing, I think.

Maybe it's like making diamonds. All that pressure and heat and turmoil--and it makes this lump of coal-like substance with a diamond in it. It's a diamond, but not what anyone would want right there, so the real genius is polishing it until it's something someone would want to be seen with. *LOL*

So yes, the real torture is making the diamond, but the polishing--that's more fun, right?

Bosun said...

Thanks for the link, Marn. I need to check that out! I'm red penning printed pages now and seeing where I need more "polishing" (as Hellie puts it) and where I've got something good already. Trying something new and it was slow getting started, but it's picking up now.

I can't wait to see your revised version!

Hellion said...

Okay, I loved that link, Marn! I printed out all her worksheets and I don't even have anything to revise yet!!!

2nd Chance said...

I love ka-booming. I will do it at the end of a chapter, but not too often. I think I aim for about three big chapter ending ka-booms per book. But more often, they are the emotional ka-booms.

I loved when Emily was moaning about how what Silvestri thought about her didn't matter because this was all an illusion and...then she let it slip out of her mouth that he didn't matter...realized it was a lie the minute she said it and just sorta gaped at him. And he handled it... Sigh. I do like that man!

In action adventure, there are a lot of real ka-boom moments...

Bosun said...

You ka-boomed to open the first book! LOL! And then the ice palace! I still need to read to find out what you ka-boom in the next two. LOL!

2nd Chance said...

Well, they are pirate stories...there will be cannon ka-booms... ;-)

Hellion said...

I love emotional ka-booms best, 2nd! You do do them well!!

And I do love it when a man can handle it.

Yes, action adventure does have a lot of ka-booms. I read the Devil's Colony by James Rollins and it was ka-booming all the time. I was exhausted just reading it. (It was fine, but it's one of those things when I could have done with less ka-booms, or some emotional ka-booms to make more of an impact.)

I think with action adventure, there are MORE ka-booms to keep the tension going; but I think with romantic fiction or relationship fiction, there are less ka-booms needed. You only need a few well-placed ka-booms to shatter the whole thing and wonder how you're going to fix it. Romance is always making the classy case where LESS IS MORE. :)

Bosun said...

That's very true. I know when I'm reading a straight Romance and things are going really well, I realize there's half a book left and then I'm on the edge of my seat because I know something bad is going to happen. So the timing of the ka-boom is just as important! Let the reader settle in and think everything is good. The KA-BOOM! Emotional punch in the gut.

Hellion said...

And you know something bad is going to happen because the author has placed the key information about the character: what they will and will not do, what will hurt them most, etc. The reader can see the path out before the character that the character cannot see--and you know it's going to happen.

And if it's a particularly good author, it's even worse than you imagined. The character has an even worse reaction than you thought...

2nd Chance said...

I just read a short novella and realized...I was waiting for a ka-boom, but because it was such a never happened. And I sorta missed it.

Hellion said...

Hmmm. I think even novellas need kabooms! But again, the kaboom can't be so awful that it can't be resolved quickly since it is a novella! Just shows the power of a short story. The ones that are really well done are hard to find because having such a succinct word count can make kabooms and resolution difficult.

2nd Chance said...

Well, it sorta started with a mini kaboom...

sin said...

I had a serious awesome comment and the CAPTCHA on my phone ate it. I wish I was the God of CAPTCHA so I could smite this one down.

In short- I'm pissed I missed this blog today cause I like to make KA-BOOMS.

Kim Harrison does excellent KA-BOOM writing.

Hellion said...

Darn that captcha! Thanks for coming by, Sin! :) I know you've been busy. And I know you love the ka-booms, physical and emotional!

Kim Harrison is an excellent ka-boom from some of the plot twists you've told me about. :)