Warbreaker was released today. If you’re not yet familiar with Brandon Sanderson, this is a good place to start for a lot of reasons.
First, you can read it free. During the writing and revision process, he posted each draft of the story on his site as he went along (and the final version is up now). I have read it this way, and I positively love it. (As I do the rest of Sanderson’s work. Really, check him out.) And really, I like to support people who are nice enough to give their stuff away.
Second, there are a couple of good reasons to pick this book up in stores this week, if you’re into hardcovers. How well a book does during its first week of sales has a huge impact on its reception in the publishing industry, as well as the industry reception of later books from the same author. Sanderson would really like this book to do well for a couple of reasons beyond the obvious. First, he wants to prove that giving digital copies away worked; and second, he’s finally getting major support from Barnes & Noble, and he’d rather not let them down.
It’s probably worth noting that I won’t personally be picking up a hard copy this week. There are a couple of reasons for this, but the main one is I just don’t like hardcovers much. I prefer paperbacks. Not just because they’re like a quarter of the cost, but because I honestly prefer holding and reading a paperback to holding and reading a hardcover. (Even so, I’d probably pick up a copy this week to support the whole giving-copies-away thing if it weren’t for the fact that I’m trying to save money for the move. I kind of suspect that there will be plenty of buying going on, though.)
On an almost completely unrelated topic, my wife and I watched one of the commentary tracks for Ocean’s Eleven the other day. First let me say that Ocean’s Eleven is an amazing movie. I’ve probably seen it five or six times, and considering that I only rarely watch movies to begin with, and only occasionally re-watch them, that’s saying something.
What caught my eye this time around — mainly because it was pointed out several times in the commentary — was the shot economy in the movie. There were no wasted cuts. Many times, situations where you’d normally see a cut from one camera to another were instead handled by panning the camera, sometimes rather quickly. One shot that sticks in my mind has two or three groups entering the building, and each time it follows the group up the walk and then whips to the next one. It’s subtle, but very effective. I like that it gives the movie a more dynamic feel; I like the vague but strong impressions you get of the surroundings panning past them rather than just cutting from one angle to another. In short, I was very impressed with the technique, once I realized it was there.
But I’m a novel writer. As awesome as that is, I’m not planning on writing screenplays any time soon. Does that mean I don’t get to play with that trick?
Not at all. I think there are parallels to be drawn here.
Specifically, let’s look at scenes. I believe a good scene should be merrily doing several things at once. If I’m watching a movie, reading a book, or reading a comic and the scene/shot/series of panels has nothing going on but the most obvious main thing going on, I’m anywhere from subtly bugged to seriously annoyed. (Depending, of course, on how interesting the main thing is.) In the visual media, I think it can be much easier to subtly throw in background details — people talking, side characters doind funny stuff in the back while the main characters talk, etcetera. This may be trickier in novels, because all the text is going to be read in order — instead of being subtle by virtue of being drawn in the background, minor details like that must be written in subtly. (This isn’t intended to bash the visual media, I should add. There’s an art to the placement, choice, and emphasis of background stuff, but I don’t know as much about it.)
But I’m actually a little off topic here. As nifty as that is, what I’m really talking about is cut economy. Is it necessary to write a scene in a tent, then a scene break, then a scene five minutes later in the next tent over? Well, maybe, maybe not — it depends on what you’re trying to do — but the point is that both using and not using a scene break are valid options, with their own merits. Instead hitting enter twice, maybe you could write a sentence or two giving a quick sketch of what’s in between – the verbal equivalent of a camera pan. I think there’s a real potential to strengthen scenes by compounding them, but then there’s also a certain punch you get out of a scene break.
Compounding scenes is going to be one of my major goals in the second draft of Derelict. The rough draft is largely just to get everything worked out and in place — there are a lot of small scenes that are there to do exactly one thing, because I needed that one thing done at that point in the story. They were always intended to be rolled up into larger scenes, but it’s easier to juggle them and move them around in the early draft if I don’t have them all tangled up like the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a game of Twister.