We expect unpredictable things to happen in fiction; I know when I pick up a new book I am longing for a really wild adventure. I want things to happen to the characters that are both plausible and out of the ordinary; I want to feel safe and exhilarated at the same time.
Reading, ideally, is like a perfect rollercoaster. Now, I hate rollercoasters; they make me feel like I’m being torn inside out, and I want to die before they even start moving, BUT the idea of a rollercoaster is very appealing—you know, if my body was on board with the twists and turns and very high speeds.
Surprises and Twists
Really great fiction surprises and delights us; Tom Jones has been called one of the most perfectly-plotted novels ever written. Fielding will have a woman speak to the hero in an inn, and fifteen chapters later, she is seamlessly woven into the plot, and an intriguing backstory is revealed. The woman’s husband will become vital, and we discover that the travelers in the next room over were important, too. By the end of the plot, every character in the book is gloriously connected in an absurd but satisfyingly logical way.
Human nature is a treasure trove of unpredictability, not because people are illogical, but because, in general, they are excellent liars. Here, let us take an example of how you can take your current plot and add a little delicious chaos.
Samantha and Jim came through the portal intact; their suits were scorched, and as Samantha desperately keyed in the self-destruct code for the arch, they heard the ominous sucking of the pre-transit energy.
“They’re coming through, hurry!” Jim gasped. He wrenched himself to his feet, and gathered a pair of plasma rifles from the wall. Samantha pressed the last key, and Jim tossed her a rifle.
“Maybe they’ll be torn up when they come through,” Samantha said, moving back from the portal and raising her weapon.
“It’s too late. We’ll have to hope it explodes before too many of them make it in,” Jim replied.
Well, That Was Exciting; I Don’t See Anything Wrong With It!
You aren’t reading a blog about writing because you can’t write well; you’re here because you have learned through hard experience that good writing is never enough. You know that there is something more, something alchemical that no one seems able to explain to you, some spark that makes you irresistible to the reader. Now, we’re not going to talk about that spark just now (but we can on another day), but we are going to take the above excerpt and apply some carefully-controlled chaos to it. See how the prose improves when deliberate entropy is introduced.
Samantha’s arm came into the room; the portal expanded, and then contracted with a hideous crackle. She screamed as she pressed her body though the crackling substance; her voice made no sound in the ether of transit, but a dry rattle echoed around the room as soon as her face emerged from the portal. She gripped at the floor; a pair of table legs were near the base of the portal. She grabbed these, her knuckles white, and wrenched her body free of the sputtering layer of light.
Oh, no! Jim. She had meant to fall down to the floor, and to draw sweet air into her lungs, but now she moaned as she twisted towards the portal, and thrust her right fist back into the shivering layer.
A hiss of excruciating agony tore from her lips; she groped in the nothingness, and willed some scrap of Jim to brush her desperate fingers.
Well, That Isn’t Fair! You Just Wrote A Different Story
Actually, I took one half-sentence of calm prose, ” Samantha and Jim came through the portal intact;” and I inserted melodic entropy.
Wait, Now There’s Melody? Argh!
Just for kicks, let see one sentence fragment of ugly entropy, so that you know what I mean by “melodic.”
Samantha’s wrist and fingers scrabbled like ravenous claws through the sparkling buzz of yellow and orange energy that formed the substance on the surface of the crackling—
Yeah, let’s just stop, because it hurts the eyes. Melodic entropy is chaos in the form of deliberate art; ugly chaos is word-vomit.
Well, How Do I Do It For Myself?
For about fifty percent of you, the answer is going to be: Write down detailed transitions for every significant action. (Because you are writing too quickly to allow for true internal chaos.) For the other fifty percent, the answer is: Let yourself write down what you are really thinking of writing down. Give yourself permission to use the words you like.
That Was Vague, Gosh
You can write chaos on purpose, and you can make it beautiful. I also think that you have an intuitive sense of how to do this; all you have to do is give yourself permission to use the skills that you already have.
Beautiful Chaos Sets You Apart
Anyone can write a story, if they sit down and do it. You are the only one who can take the time to push yourself to the edge of what you can write, and how disintegratingly beautiful your prose will be depends entirely on your willingness to risk. Risk looking like a brave writer; risk your story getting longer, or more direct. Risk failure, and you are more than likely to improve at a blistering pace. Controlled, musical entropy will set your fiction apart, and make your voice individual, striking, and immersive.
You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole; to learn more about my books, click here. Thanks for visiting!