Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Construction Paper


Philadelphia Street Scene,
Paul Martel ( 1879-1944)
o/c.


They may blow up the street in front of my house.

Naturally, I am intensely interested. I haven't handled dynamite since I was twelve or so. The inspector who came by to check for pre-existing cracked windows and plaster appeared disconcerted by my feral interest and ill-concealed anticipation.

Since I'm not much for personal shock 'n awe, I have to wonder if my laconic attitude towards uncivilized situations -- which is reflected in my narrative "voice" and which my Lillie shares to some degree -- will likewise discomfit agents. Nice girls and all that.

I have just finished Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Tiger ( the Seige of Seringapatam 1799) -- where, by synchronosity, a giant mine trap serves as a hidden horror awaiting the British assault.

One sees plainly why the series is so popular: the detail rings with authenticity and deviations from actual historical record are clearly covered in Cornwell's historical notes.

My only technical objection is based on personal taste and applies, mostly, to stories in third person.

I really dislike reading a helpless hero faced with an implacable, eternal and powerful enemy too early in a narrative (even though Cornwell does it in brilliant fashion with Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.)
While high stakes create drama and suspense, I don't like to invest emotional attachment on a character who may not survive (which is why I'm one of those who always checks the last pages of a novel just to make sure.)
A writer risks reader withdrawal when using an impossible stituation too soon. The more hand-wringing realistic the situation for the hero, the more I defensively detach from him and his seemingly inescapable fate.
I don't like that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.


39 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

If it looks like there's no hope, it's just depressing. I read for escapism, and I like to see that the hero finds options that lead to The Way Out.

Feral gleam in yer eye at the mention of dynamite? You naughty woman, you! I think that it would cause raised eyebrows in most men when grey-haired ladies are interested in anything traditionally "man's realm" like bombs, guns, and gore. It's good for them, lol.

BernardL said...

So, someone else besides me checks to see who lives through a novel's ending. :)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

helpless hero faced with an implacable, eternal and powerful enemy too early in a narrative

I agree. I like for the story to start with our hero and I like to see him or her in a sticky situation that s/he cleverly gets out of. (That's some good writing right there, by the way.) That gives the reader a sense of growing odds and also confidence in the hero. Cuz I really can't stand the "unlikely" wimpy hero. That's been done to death. The unlikely hero, in my opinion, needs some time to simmer, say a century or so, until it's all new again.

And I always read the last page of every book.

spyscribbler said...

If there's an impossible situation to soon, it's difficult to escalate without getting a little ridiculous. One still has 2/3 of a book to keep escalating page after page.

laughingwolf said...

in such a situ, i prefer the mc gets offed and someone new takes the lead...

how about tnt? ;) lol

Bernita said...

I MUST dig out the Lady Clairol.No help for it, the hair is adding years.
Ah, Written, easier for them to think one is slightly dotty.

Always do, Bernard. Now you know why I asked you about Deke, etc.

Betsy, Sharpe is definitely not unlikely, that was well established, but it took a form of ex machina to get him out of a 2000 lash flogging - reasonable in retrospect, of course.

Usually,Natasha. Well managed by Cornwell.Frying pan meets fire.

Don't know what they'll be using specificially, Lw. Yet.

Gabriele C. said...

LOl, you better don't read GRR Martin then, no character is ever safe in his books.

I don't mind if major characters, even the hero, die as long as the death is meaningfull in the context of the novel.

And I'm not afraid to kill my chararcters even if I cry through the entire scene. ;)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I don't mind if major characters, even the hero, die as long as the death is meaningfull in the context of the novel.


This is a pet peeve of mine rooted in POV. When I'm in someone's head, I should get to assume they're going to survive. Something about their dying ruins my suspension of disbelief. I could be jaded, though; I see too many writers of short stories pull this trick, thinking they're original.

Besides, it's more fun when the worse things than death happen to a character. Death is often a cop-out.

Robyn said...

A film example: In Robocop, the director had the human police officer very brutally murdered, and he becomes Robocop early in the story. The director said the brutality was a way to garner sympathy for the human, since he isn't seen but for a few minutes. That worked, but I agree with you- why shoot your wad so soon?

My weird neighbors blew a chunk out of our curb one 4th of July.;)

Bernita said...

Gabriele, I have read a couple of GR Martin.Part of the reason I feel the way I do.

You express my objections well, Betsy.Am inclined, moreover, to feel tricked and betrayed.
"Death is often a cop-out."
That is a truth, there are worse things.

writtenwyrdd said...

Bernita, when I started to go really grey at 32 I began to dye my hair. I'd have to sit down for close to 2 hours with the hair dye for it to sink in enough to actually darken the grey. (I used the less caustic progressive dyes.) It's tempting to go to the salon, but I'd end up bald from the damage, lol. Besides, it's so incredibly fussy to have to go in every 3-4 weeks (not to mention paying about $80 a month for the priviledge).

Bernita said...

Really difficult to pull off successfully, Robyn.

What would a neighbourhood be without a resident weirdo?

Charles Gramlich said...

I definitely agree that you have to ease readers into the impossible. Start with the actual, work through to unusual, then improbable. Only then can you go for the impossible.

Bernita said...

"Incredibly fussy" and a time waster, Written. Why I stopped bothering.

Charles, of course once the character survives the impossible in the beginning, one curls a lip at successive difficulties.

writtenwyrdd said...

I see we are much alike in our attitude, Bernita.

Whirlochre said...

Hope it's a good explosion.

As for the Big Big Bad Guy (or Gal) — they have to be saved till the end.

'Only another eigth of an inch of pages, and the hero has to get out of this?'

That said, my pet peeve is when the mutilated and deaded bad guy (or gal) (or horse) rises again for a final stab at the hero. It happens all the time in horror films.

Travis Erwin said...

We expect video of the blast.

The Anti-Wife said...

Ya just want to scream, "Can't you be more creative? You're a writer!"

Dynamite - COOL!

Another one who always reads the ending first.

raine said...

I still haven't reached the point where I peek at the last page. But yes, I much prefer my impossible odds built up slowly and steadily.
And if you're going to do that, and put said character through hell, you'd better not kill him or I may never speak to you again.

Nice girls and all that.

Nice girls DO. ;)

Bernita said...

Written, we both need more vanity.

Will be somewhat disappointed if they don't have to blast after all. Whirl.
Think I have the tendency to get irritated with the eternal villain who survives , nicky-timey, just like the hero.

No place to shoot from, Travis.

Right, Aw. Our money, our time.Prevents wall damage.

Bernita said...

I'm not much for extreme cartharsis, Raine.

There seems to be the idea that only kick-ass females can be hard and dirty when the occasion calls for it though.

Vesper said...

You've handled dynamite at twelve? Bernita!!!

I agree with your opinion on too high stakes too early in the story. This bothers me even more if I somehow sense that these stakes are deliberately magnified by the author. It makes it hard to read for me too and, although I don't go to the end, I tend to skip pages just to get relief faster.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

By the way, Bernita, I think you're beautiful just the way you are. Don't you dare color!

Bernita said...

Precocious, curious kid and tolerant blasters, Vesper.

Cornnwell does it well, I'll grant that, but the scene put a barrier between me and the protagonist.

~turning pink~
Sweet of you to say so, Betsy. Thank you.

Lana Gramlich said...

I hear you. There are usually only 2 options; the hero's gonna bite it, as you say, or they're going to win an unrealistic victory (which is going to piss me off.) Perhaps this is partly why I stick with non-fiction these days...

Bernita said...

Thought I was just chicken-hearted, Lana.

Dave F. said...

They may blow up the street in front of my house.

The little boy in me says "ooooh booms" but the adult in me says "trouble." In Pennsylvania, the person doing the blasting has absolute liability. So get the digital camera and photograph your house and everything you own in detail. Just to be safe.

Walmart tried to build on a hilltop near Pittsburgh and the hill was so riddled with faults and abandoned mines. When they blew it up, the hill started to slide onto a highway and they spent 6 months removing most of the hill to protect the highway.

Then about 5 miles west of my house they tried long wall mining. They swore it wouldn't harm the surface. I worked with mining people and we all rolled our eyes in disbelief. Granted, it was a deep mine, but not deep enough. A section of Route I-70 near Washington Pa started to slide away and a "hump" appeared and started moving along I-70. I drove over it a few times. Truly strange. Imagine a 20 foot wide speed bump that moved day by day down the length of 2 miles of highway and across four lanes with a grass divider. Now that's what you call impressive.

I'm not saying this to scare you. These are just interesting stories.
And there's a roll call on TV.

Steve Malley said...

Something you don't hear in everday conversation: 'I haven't handled dynamite since I was twelve...' :)

Carla said...

Interesting comment on Sharpe's Tiger. It's part of the second series, which are mainly prequels and gap fillers for the first, so when I read it I had long acquaintance with Sharpe from the Peninsular War and knew him to be as indestructible as James Bond. Interesting to see your take.

J. L. Krueger said...

I've often wondered why civilians insist on using relatively unstable stuff like dynamite when there are better explosives out there now! A woman who plays with explosives...wow!

Cornwell's a favorite of mine. BTW, if you haven't read them all, ole Obediah is around for several books...he's got more lives than a cat (like Sharpe), but he does run out of luck eventually and Sharpe makes extra sure of him.

I think when reading parts of a series, you have to look at how the characters are handled a little differently than a short story or "stand-alone" book.

Cornwell carries several characters, good and bad, through the series...killing them off as required when their usefulness has expired.

Bernita said...

Must be a lot of "little boy" in me too, Dave. I like booms. It's the physics that facinates.
"Imagine a 20 foot wide speed bump that moved day by day down the length of 2 miles of highway" -interesting is an understatement!
Probably can't happen here - PreCambrian shield - but might create a degree of bootie shake.

"Something you don't hear in everday conversation"

Steve, maybe that's why some people in this town look at me funny every now and then.

This is the first Sharpe I've read, Carla and here was Sharpe, helpless within the military chain of command and Hakeswill's mad malevolence - totally realistic and escape from the flogging an impossibility.

Bernita said...

Just to be plain, JL, I have no idea - yet - just what the crew will use if they have to blast the road bed.
"A woman who plays with explosives...wow!" - now, be nice.
I probably will seek out more of the series. The air of authenticity is most engaging and I'm rather fond of the Peninsula Wars and Wellington (as he became).
Happy to know that Hakeswill eventually gets his just comeuppance - though I assume he is replaced by another evil emminence.

J. L. Krueger said...

I actually meant that as a compliment! (woman playing with explosives)

There is a guy named Simmerson who overlaps Obediah, but he also gets his comeupance. Of course, Napoleon is there until Waterloo.

The Napoleonic Era is one of my favorites in history, so I concur on Wellington and the Peninsular Campaign. It is another reason I got drawn to Cornwell's books. Part of me was critiquing and I had to admit his research was excellent in terms of the historical aspects of his writing.

archer said...

Blasting crews can be picturesque, with hooks, eye patches, and bandanas. They look like pirates only they don't say "Yarrr."

I have spent the summer making my way through Virgil's Aeneid, where the strong and clever live and the weak die, often with "warm brains" running down their shoulders. Virgil really likes to talk about warm brains. I have learned he was a huge success. I don't speak Latin, except for Pig Latin, but the Mandelbaum translation is poetic as hell.

Bernita said...

I don't play with them, Jl, I have a healthy respect. Am just not frightened by the idea of booms in the neighbourhood from a perfectly legitiimate cause.

Critiquing accuracy is part of the appeal for me as well. I plan to snaffle more.

Archer, am afraid this lot appear to be ordinary works types.

Glad you liked the wine dark sea and all that ( oh wait, that was Homer). Have the feeling certain discriptions were likely set tropes. My Latin is of the most primitive sort and mostly forgotten.

Ello said...

Bernita! I am just like you! I always have to check those last pages because I can't stand that sick stomach feeling!

cindy said...

the love peeks, too. it truly appalls me! hhaa! gosh, that appalls looks awfully odd.

anyway, i wouldn't really enjoy a book where the hero dies, i think. even if meaningful.

Sam said...

dynamite! (runs and hides) I've always been shy of loud noises and explosions. I like reading about heroines who are cool in the face of danger. Insouciance catches my attention, along with expertise. I'm with you about disliking helpless situations.

Bernita said...

~bumps fists with Ello~

We just don't like nasty surprises, Cindy!

And she doesn't have to be kick-ass, Sam, just keep her head and not be a ninny.