I decided to spend my retirement in ancient Rome, but I made the huge mistake of bringing a tube of mayonnaise. Now everyone wants snake-shaped aioli and I have to shuttle back and forth between antiquity and modern times like some kind of damned time merchant! The only thing worse would be if they figured out I wasn’t from Atlantis, but the future. God only knows what kind of unrefusable offers they would force upon me then!
Correct spelling can save lives!
I’ve picked out my crystal ball and had a peek into the future of presidential debating. Here’s one from 2036…
Anchor: And that concludes the first presidential debate. Jim, what are your comments?
Jim: Well, there are three things I’d like to comment on. First the education reform. This has for a long time been a sore subject for Senator G’s campaign, but tonight we’ve seen some very firm language…
Anchor: Yes, he took a very strong stance.
Jim: Indeed. I’ve never seen him hit his chest that hard before.
Anchor: Or roared that loud…
Jim: Exactly. I think it’s obvious this will be one of the more important areas he will focus on going forward. Also the medical spending…
Anchor: That was ugly.
Jim: Yes, it’s a sad thing to see, but I think we all know in these kinds of debates it will, and have several times before happened, and it is indeed an ugly thing when any of the candidates start throwing feces. However, I can’t recall I’ve ever seen both candidates and the moderator do it at the same time. The usual sequence of things is that one candidate shits themselves and then starts throwing it around the room, and then, later in the debate the other one does the same. It’s only been twice, as far as I can recall the moderator has done it as well, and never at the same time as the candidates.
Anchor: An ugly record indeed.
Jim: Indeed. This is definitely going to be one of the more ugly confrontations in the campaigning. And the third thing I wanted to touch upon was military spending.
Anchor: I think we can all say it was good some changes were made to the venue ahead of this debate.
Jim: Yes. The electric fence really was a lifesaver here. I do not want to imagine what might have happened without it. I think military spending will be a very strong focus area in both campaigns and we’ll probably see, if possible, more severe confrontations over it in the coming debates.
Anchor: And there you have it; the first presidential debate of 2036.
Take a situation. Find its cracks. Put wedges in those cracks. New cracks will likely appear. Keep putting in wedges until the whole thing flies apart. That’s your climax. The wedges and the cracks are the pressure points, the conflicts, and the story leading up to and causing that climax.
Q: Which body part should you use to convey strong emotions in fiction writing?
A: Your reader’s brain.
If you build up properly toward that emotional strong point in your character’s life, once it hits, you can use very few descriptions to make a very strong scene.
I think one of the most common reactions to extremely emotional situations, like cancer diagnoses, is a need to remain in emotional control. I’ve even seen people apologize for shedding tears in a moment like this.
So you can’t have the character running in circles, screaming and shouting… instead you use a build-up to create all the emotion in the situation.
Cancer diagnoses are easy in that regard. No one wants to die, so all you really need to do is make the reader care enough for the character that we’re not in the situation of “reading about a car accident in the newspaper” — it happens to strangers we don’t know, so we don’t care.
You can take it one step further. What if your cancer patient isn’t so much afraid of dying, but more afraid of not having lived?
One of the strongest episodes of “New Amsterdam” (Season 1, Episode 18) contains one such moment.
In “New Amsterdam,” we follow Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) who is the new director of the hospital “New Amsterdam.” We find out early in the first season, he’s also struggling with cancer.
For most of season 1, he tries to balance the new job of directing the hospital with his cancer treatment, but in episode 17 his cancer doctor “quits” on him, for various reasons, and in episode 18 he ends up with a new doctor.
His new doctor is hardcore. She sits him down and tells him, he can’t miss his treatments.
And he tries to explain that there were a life and death emergency at the hospital he had to deal with and that’s the reason he missed today’s treatment.
She tells him. His cancer is the life and death emergency. All her patients that have treated their cancer as he has (missed or rescheduled appointments, focusing on other things than their cancer treatment, etc) have died.
Does he want to die?
This is the moment his plan to run the hospital, to save it, to revolutionize it’s management, at the same time that he beats cancer… this is the moment that plan dies.
And all we’re shown is his sad eyes. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t move.
And it is strong, not because of what any character says or does at that moment, but because of what happened before. Because of how hard he fought to change the hospital, to be strong, to be both successful at managing the hospital and beating cancer.
At that moment his new doctor beats it into him, and us, that he’s been in this fight for his life ever since he got the diagnose, and he’s almost missed it completely.
I’d urge you to watch that episode, but you pretty much have to watch the preceding 17 episodes as well, to get the full emotional impact.
Which is exactly what I mean to say with this post. Strong emotion takes a proper build-up. If you have a TV show, use a season for it!
“Thethuthothethar and Khakhokhekhokham stared each other down, swords at the ready, fists clenched around the hilts, breaths coming in white clouds as their feet slowly drew arcs in the newly fallen snow. The white would soon turn red.”
Yeah, “th” is cool and “kh” … but no. Nope. Nay. Not even the Aztecs!