Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Candy and Distraction

What is candy? 

Candy is when you give the reader something that they want and it doesn't really have anything pertinent to add to either character development or moving the plot forward.  There's a couple of reasons to add candy.


One is to give the reader a breather patch where there isn't anything really much to process and they can just enjoy the next scene or two as things carry on.

A second is to summarize the plot as its developed so far or else to showcase some point of character development.

The last is to pad space in your story and make it longer than it otherwise would be.

Any sort of scene can be candy as long as it: a) is primarily there to provide fanservice in one form or another; and, b) it really doesn't add anything to the overall plot.

An impressive fight scene show-casing numerous daredevil actions, superpowers and clever stratagems could be one form of candy.  This is especially true if the fight scene in question is more or less a foregone conclusion.  A random encounter with mooks, for instance, is not a plot-necessary fight and is really just there for people to enjoy a good sequence of the characters mowing through enemies.  Likewise, in a horror story, any sequence where the characters are pressed by the monster but nothing significant happens tends to exist just to continue the flavor of being stalked.

Sex scenes are very often candy.  There are books where sex is at least close to the main focus or sometimes the actual main focus.  Erotica books certainly focus on sex and the natural result of many romance books comes with "on screen" sex scenes eventually.  However, in other genres, sex is often very much in the candy category.

Comic relief is another sort of candy.  A brief period of misadventure, ridiculous coincidence or amusing grating of different personalities can be a great breather for the reader.  Sometimes this doesn't even have to be a full scene, you can, for instance, randomly have something like a frozen turkey fall out of the sky to kill a vampire.  That can be a great moment for giving a bit of much needed relief in an otherwise serious situation.

Now, to summarize:

If the characters don't learn anything plot relevant.

If they don't come out of the circumstances with much if any real change.

If the direction of the story remains the same.

If the reader doesn't learn anything new about the story.

Then that particular element or scene is candy.

Candy is fine for the most part.  So don't worry if you find yourself in cases where you have a scene that doesn't really add to your story.  If possible, filter in some stuff there that does add a little in retrospect, but as long as it's only a few scenes and there's a lot of distance between them, you're probably using candy appropriately.

Now, the problem with candy is that you can lured off into using too much of it.  At which point it becomes a distraction.  Remember, the more space you use on something that doesn't advance the plot, the longer the book is going to be.  Also, if you put in lots and lots of candy, you'll find that you'll be having to spend a few pages to re-affirm just what the plot had developed to towards the current point.  And as much as people like candy, if the plot doesn't move forward, you're going to lose audience.

I'm a little biased, but I tend to think that sex-scenes are especially bad about this.  In something like Pandora Pox, yes, I expect sex to come up a lot since one of the themes of that story setting is sexual innuendo and comedy.  However, even when I get around to that setting, I don't expect there to be all that many actual sex scenes, but rather Winter telling the reader "it happened, let's move on".

In Bystander the chapter linked here has what a friend of mine called a "no-sex sex scene" in that the sex is described in the single sentence of "Lucretia's skin was pure and soft as new fallen snow."  Anything else I left to reader imagination.

An excellent example of a necessary sex scene is the one with Liriel Baenre and Fyodor in either Daughter of the Drow or Tangled Webs.  Liriel, used to sex being just a simple past-time, is troubled by the amount of emotional content she experiences with Fyodor.  Up to the point that she closes her eyes because she is having troubles looking into Fyodor's.  There isn't much blow by blow, rather most of the scene focuses instead on the searing emotions of the situation and how it makes Liriel think of the way things are.

The thing is that people get wrapped up in sex scenes and can start producing one after another until the plot is more or less lost.  The immense amount of investment people place into sex and making love tends to overshadow a lot of the rest of the story and you use a lot of your space to show it.  Also, doing a blow by blow every time sex happens will tend to dull the emotional impact of the individual scenes.  It becomes less guttural and passionate and more mechanical.

Fighting and comic relief can likewise get out of control, but sex seems to be the biggest of the candy-gone-wild suspects.

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