Writing in 3D
Guest Post from Lance Hawvermale
Lance Hawvermale is the author of Face Blind, a mystery exploring historical trauma against the dramatic backdrop of the world’s driest desert. He comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Sunday, November 20th, at 5 PM.
“A writer lives his life in a pit.” I encountered those words many years ago, when I was skull-deep in everything written by William Goldman (Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Goldman writes novels like they were movies and writes movies like they were novels. What does that mean? It means the scenes in his books have motion, and the dialogue in his screenplays has depth. And that’s what I hope I learned from him. Every great novel needs motion and depth.
1st Dimension: Velocity
If a scene contains nothing but two characters talking, then those characters better be arguing. To keep tension pinned to every page, conflict must be evident from one paragraph to the next, even in those “dull” spaces between major turning points in the plot. If you’ve ever skimmed a chapter because “nothing is happening,” then the author failed to provide that conflict. Conflict equals tension, and tension is what keeps us up at night, desperate to finish the book before dawn.
2nd Dimension: Mass
Goldman taught me an important truth about dialogue. People don’t talk to each other; they talk at each other. We answer questions with questions. We say revealing things about ourselves in our responses. We’re funny at inappropriate times. We tend to ramble and rant. Great writers package all of that into living, realistic dialogue that creates multi-layered characters while simultaneously advancing the plot. Laughter is important, even in the darkest of stories, as it helps unspin some of that tension before the author tightens it back up again.
3rd Dimension: Light
I don’t want to live my life in Goldman’s proverbial pit, so I’m adding my own third dimension, and I hope he forgives me. My crime fiction novel Face Blind (Minotaur Books) contains the usual suspects: bloodshed, gunshots, chase scenes. But it also contains a bit of poetry. I’ve always been in love with the way two sentences can sound when you click them together against your ear. What’s important to me is not simply to be mindful of my motion and my depth, but also of the way that light reflects off the words when you hold them close enough. It’s not enough for me to weave a spooky mystery; I want to charm you along the way with the romance of the written word, if only a little.
Crime fiction might not be the place for poetry. I may be wrong. And putting beauty into a chaotic world isn’t easy. That’s the kind of work that quite literally keeps me up at night. I lose sleep and common sense over it. But as Goldman wrote and Paul Newman said in Butch, “That’s a small price to pay for beauty.”