Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When You Wish Books Had Montages

Ennui--Walter Richard Sickert Janice Hardy ran a post on her Story Flip blog on those times when you want to show that time has passed as the protagonist learned a new skill or developed a new romantic relationship, etc. In film or on TV, sometimes you’ll see a video montage showing the character learning to play championship tennis, or becoming the karate kid, or going on a series of lighthearted dates with the new romantic lead. There’ll be invigoratingly peppy music accompanying it.

I usually end up rolling my eyes a little during the montage scenes. I think it’s lazy of the director…and, probably, I’m a little envious because literature doesn’t have a similar device.

So what can we do as writers, to indicate passing time and a major shift occurring in the character’s life? And how do we keep it interesting?

Janice’s idea was to introduce some conflict into the scene where this is occurring. This would prevent the scene from playing like some happy little sequence with only minor setbacks and a happy outcome after minimum effort. Maybe the hero has a setback while learning the new skill. Maybe the conflict of the novel is looming in the background, increasing the tension while this character is working hard to learn the skill…what can we have go wrong for the protagonist?

Her post got me thinking of other possible ways we could approach this type of scene.

Dialogue-- The protagonist summing up what happened for another character: “You wouldn’t believe what I went through. I practiced from sunup to sundown every day for the last few months. Broke the strings on seven rackets. It was brutal, but I’m ready for the big match.”

A zippy summary—For the rest of the year, Tammy felt like she was barely hanging on as she worked two jobs, finished up the work for her degree, and kept as much of an eye on her daughter as she could.

Some showing, not telling on the work involved: “Ma’am? Did you decide which mat and frame you wanted for the diploma?” “The nicest, most expensive thing you’ve got in the store.”

Or start your story at the point where the skill has already been learned or the relationship is already in progress. Or where the transformation is more important…and becomes a bigger part of the book. This isn’t going to work for those examples Janice gave where a character needs to suddenly develop these magical powers to rise to the occasion and defeat an evil force. But it could work in other areas.

Do you really need to start the story before Tammy suddenly decides to take on a couple of jobs and finish her degree while being a single mom? Could you start it with Tammy in the middle of this struggle? Or, conversely, should you have Tammy’s struggle be the plot of your book…not just a quick montage-type scene. Or you could have it start right as Tammy is coming out of the struggle. She’s had a rough last year, but she’s about to get her degree! Life looks great…she’s so optimistic. But then we can throw some major conflict her way right when she thinks things are looking up.

Have you ever had to write something you wish you could use a montage for? How did you approach it?