I’m currently reading several books, but the one that I’m getting quite excited about is Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the culmination of a five book series about the Five children who are destined to save us all from the Old Ones. You must read them, they are very, very good.
They aren’t the happiest of books, but we are dealing with the end of the world here; it isn’t going to be a happy place.
Anyway, last night I read a chapter where Scarlet and Richard arrive in Dubai. It’s a chapter where nothing really happens. Horowitz has rolled the dice and has made the characters aware that they have to get to Antarctica and this is the chapter where Scarlet and Richard have to get there.
It’s a difficult chapter from a writers point of view because it has a very clear purpose, and this purpose has to be achieved; there is no choice. Scarlet and Richard have to get to Antarctica and they are in Dubai. They need a plane, they need a pilot and it can’t be as easy as walking into the deserted airport and happening upon what they need; this is the end of the world, it can’t be that simple.
So Horowitz creates an obstacle for them to get around in order to get them on their way. It’s sort of neither here nor there. It’s a plot point that probably wouldn’t be in the film version, if there was one, which there should be because it would be wow! It’s skip-able.
In Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, I always groan slightly when I get to the chapter about Norbert. I think there’s only one chapter, but it is needless. Nothing happens to advance the plot, as far as I can remember – it’s been a while since I read it – but you can’t just skip a chapter when you’re reading a book; can you?
Norbert is skip-able. I have a feeling that the chapters in Dubai are skip-able. Obviously I haven’t finished reading it yet so you never know, there may be some greater significance which I don’t know about. But often when you’re crafting a story, and I’ve said this before, it’s the geography of the plot that is the most significant. You can build a story with all it’s twists and promise, but physically getting your characters from A to B (or sometimes Z) is the most challenging part.
I’m not necessarily talking just about the physicality either, it’s not just about Dubai to Antarctica, the geography I’m talking about also deals with being in Dubai, needing a plane, finding a plane, needing a pilot, finding out where the pilot is, discovering he’s a prisoner, developing a plan to free him, meeting a new villain… etc etc. Geography can mean many things.
The reason I am writing about this is because I am currently writing a chapter where it’s all about the geography. Crystal has to go to the Halloween Ball but first she had to convince one of her aunts to take her.
I wanted this to be a chapter where she could prove how clever she is. I knew a few things going into the chapter. I knew that Auntie Sis would not be there, but Patrick would. And he was the key in convincing Edna. I just wrote that scene and am pleasantly surprised with how it’s turned out.
This is very much a Middling-Chapter, but unlike Dubai and Norbert, I am using this chapter to really get a feel for Crystal and Edna’s relationship. They are the perfect double act for this portion of the book. It’s a wonderful relationship. Edna is her aunt, but also her guardian. She is bringing Crystal up, so in many respects she is her parent. But because she is also not her parent, it allows the relationship to be more than just parental.
Edna is an older lady, but she’s young at heart. And she’s all heart. She is thrilled by things like a new blender for kitchen, or X-Factor; she takes pleasure in the little things. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor and has the ability to put anyone at ease without even trying. She’s a baker and very much a nester.
In going to the ball with her niece, she is actually being wonderfully defiant. Sissy is very much the voice of reason and rules; she is sensible and has taken on the mantle of protector and safe-keep-er. I love their relationship; so different and yet sisters. Complete trust in each other and aware of who the other is. Really, it’s a failing on Sissy’s part that she didn’t see this coming.
The interesting thing is, Sissy doesn’t see this coming because of the third influence, Crystal. It’s Crystal’s want and need to attend the event that Sissy doesn’t see coming. Edna would never have dreamed of going to the ball as Sissy had declared, had Crystal not convinced her to. She wouldn’t resent Sissy for not letting them go either, she has complete trust in Sissy and her opinion. But also, Edna doesn’t think anything of defying her sister because she sees it as harmless. And it would be, if they weren’t walking into something all the more sinister…
This Middling-Chapter malarkey is quite difficult. A completely necessary chapter that really is just padding before a major plot point. What I am trying to do is make it interesting. Actually, it’s not even that, it’s finding a way to make the middling-chapters good. I do understand that this chapter could become skip-able. I don’t want that; I know no author would want that. So for me, this chapter is not about interesting or advancing the plot, by default the plot is advanced anyway; this chapter is about heart. I’m hoping that focusing on heart I will avoid the trap of the Middling-Chapter.
In a way, Edna is the heart of this story, or at least this part of the story. When readers think about Edna in the future, I want them to think “Awwwwwwww!” She brings so much warmth and humor and that feeling of family, so this chapter is about her.
And it has been aptly named… Edna will go to the ball, and so the chapter is called Cinder-Edna.