As NaNoWriMo approaches I’ve been reading various blogs filled with helpful writing suggestions. Are you a pantster or a planner? If a planner, how meticulously do you plan? Scene by scene or just a general outline? How much back story do you create? In your notes do you simply say: ‘character likes dogs’ or list every dog they’ve ever had, what they looked like, when and how they died?
With these ideas circling around in my head I sat down with my daughter to watch the new season of Doctor Who. I really enjoy Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and the first episode, Deep Breath, had a fun plat. A dinosaur who only the doctor can communicate with? A Silurian and her capable wife? Strax? (If you haven’t seen the episode I seriously suggest you watch it).
The episode was so interesting, in fact, I found I wanted more back story and I felt positively rushed by the pace. Thinking over previous Doctor Who episodes I have seen I realized it wasn’t always this way. I was sure that the first I had ever seen (The Talons Of Weng-Chiang) was broken into six half-hour episodes.
Curious, I sat down and, using IMDB, found that I was right. Before 1989 the story developed over three hours. Now it speeds along in single forty-five minute episodes. That’s a vast difference in terms of story-telling. I wondered why they changed.
To tell a story over that long a time means you have to keep it interesting or people are going to wander away. Re-watching some of the old episodes – The Green Death or The Daemons, for example, I’ve not only stayed on the edge of my seat but the Green Death scares the spit out of me, bad special effects and all.
The shorter episodes, I realized, were usually part of a larger, over arcing story. At the end of the first episode of the new season a dead character found itself in an odd garden where a disconcertingly intense woman welcomed him to heaven. My daughter and I looked at each other and asked who the heck is she? As the series has gone on we have seen more snippets and I am sure it will end up being an important part of the series.
Which is a better way of telling a story? Frankly, neither. What is important is how well the story is told. When reading JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORELL, which is a hearty eight hundred and sixty-six pages, I flew through the book, unable to put it down. Or there is the classic: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…” (I’m not sure who to cite, I have seen both Fredric Brown and Ray Bradbury credited as the author).
So as people go into As NaNoWriMo I have a piece of advice: no matter what the length, strive to make your story compellingly well-written, and captivatingly paced.