Wordy Wednesday: Shoot the (Fictional) Gun

So, a couple things:

First off, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference‘s 2014 keynote speaker Amy Zhang’s YA contemporary debut FALLING INTO PLACE came out yesterday!! (That was such a mouthful, wow.) It’s SO GOOD, and I’m not just saying that because I know Amy. You need to read this book. I couldn’t put it down all day and was basically walking around in a fog whenever classes forced me to.

Find FALLING INTO PLACE on:

Also, make sure to stop by Amy’s website, because she’s giving away some cool FALLING INTO PLACE swag on her blog right now!

Second off, Ch1Con‘s about to kick it into high gear with about a thousand announcements in the next few weeks, so BE PREPARED for the onslaught.

Third off, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. [Trigger warning: I’m talking about triggers today.]

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I woke up this morning to an email from the police that there was a man with a gun in the chemistry building and the campus was going into lockdown. This didn’t affect me much since I was, you know, still in bed and live off campus. And almost instantaneous to me seeing the original Emergency Alert email, they sent out the All Clear, anyway. So everything was fine. Just a fun little disruption to our day. (That’s sarcasm on the “fun” front, my friend.)

It turns out the “gunman” was just a Navy ROTC member with non-weaponized equipment (aka: a gun filled with concrete so it isn’t dangerous), returning said equipment to the ROTC office. In the comment section of an article about the incident, someone groused about everyone needlessly freaking out because someone carried a gun through a class building without their knowing whether it was a working gun or the man had an intention of shooting anyone with it.

I’m not going to go into my stance on whether or not people should be allowed to own guns right now, but this comment really bothered me, because after everything that’s been happening on campuses across the United States, I think the general assumption (and the one that helps keep students safer) is that if someone has a gun with them in a place guns are not meant to be fired, there’s a good chance it’s not good.

After all, the purpose of a gun is not to humbly sit there, bullets within it, not touching the world around it. The purpose of a gun is to shoot things.

And if it’s not shooting something, it’s not fulfilling its purpose.

Thus, by this definition: an unconcealed weapon in the chem building is something we should react to first and ask the carrier questions about second. (Seriously. Who’s going to walk up to a guy with a gun outside a college classroom and be like, “Yo. What’cha got there? You planning on shooting anyone with that today?” NOT ME.)

This inherent (and what I believe to be intelligent) response to seeing someone with a gun (you know–reacting by assuming s/he’s going to shoot it) is also really important in stories.

If someone carries a weapon of some sort into a scene–be it a gun, or a knife, or some really juicy gossip–it can’t just Be There. It has to be there for a purpose. A gun in a scene is a promise that someone is going to shoot it. And if someone doesn’t, that becomes a broken promise to the reader. And when you break promises to the reader, bad things happen. (I’m not going to go into the bad things. The first rule of Reader Club is you do not talk about Reader Club.)

This rule about weapons applies to more in fiction than only things characters can use to hurt each other. It applies to everything. Did your protagonist just comment on a pretty picture? That’s great for the moment, but for it to be great for the story, you need the fact that you’ve drawn attention to the picture to mean something in the long run. Maybe there’s a clue to the mystery hidden in the picture. Or the picture has some sort of symbolic resonance that you come back to during the climax.

What matters is that it matters.

I was thinking about this today, not just because of our non-weaponized “gunman” (poor, poor Navy ROTC member), but because yesterday I had this opposite-of-an-epiphany moment in which, for no apparent reason in the middle of one of my film classes, I realized I have this paragraph in the middle of the climax of the novel I’m revising that makes no sense within the scene.

It’s information I need to share, and it comes out in a realistic way, but it isn’t important to the scene it’s in.

So while that scene is important to that information, that information is not important to that scene. And it can’t work,that way.

It’s a reciprocal relationship. Everything needs to make context in a scene (your reason for bringing a gun) and everything in a scene must be important to the scene (shooting the gun). And all of this, ultimately, needs to be important to the overall story (the results of shooting the gun).

Every word you write is a promise to the reader. Like a real gun, the purpose of your fictional (or metaphorical) gun is to shoot it.

So, shoot the gun.

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

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