I bet you’ve never heard of “BIRC”. Well, of course you haven’t, I’ve just made it up. So what does the acronym mean?
BIRC = Because It’s Really Cool.
Hang on. Surely putting something that’s “Really Cool” into what you’re writing can’t possibly be a bad thing? Ah, but if you think that then you’re in danger of falling into the same trap that I did. You see, just because something sounds like it would make The Fonz look like Robson and Jerome, doesn’t mean that it would make what you’re writing any better. Indeed, it might well actually make it worse.
Case in point: I knew that the second section of my book (I fell into a three-act structure… more on how that unintentionally happened, coming soon on the blog) needed to end with a mammoth setpiece. I’d wanted to write something like that for ages, a setpiece that would build and build over a long stretch of the book. I’d always wanted to read something similar, too. Screw little chapters with a bit of action, I thought, let’s go widescreen! Once the blue touchpaper was lit, the action would go like a runaway train for pages and pages, building to a thrilling climax. Wait a minute! Goes like a runaway train! So how about something on a speeding train? That sounds cool, right? What if there was a BOMB on the speeding train (yes, I am clearly still 5 years old), and my lead character had to go on the train to defuse it, and there were big fights and confrontations and edge-of-your seat suspense and it went on for ages just getting better and better and better? Awesome!
Written well, that would be a good setpiece, right? It’s something I’d be excited to write. But there were a couple of problems: firstly, how the hell do I write an action piece set on a train? I know bugger-all about the workings of trains. But far more importantly, why is there a bomb on the train in the first place? “Well, the main antagonist puts it there.” Yes, but why? “Because he does.” Hmmm. Great.
I’d fallen slap-bang into the middle of the Writer’s Trap. Come on, inner monologue, be honest: why is there really a bomb on the train? “Er… BIRC.”
Before I realised that a random cool event wasn’t enough, however, reason number one (“I know bugger-all about trains”) nixed the idea. I recognised my limitations in realising the scene on the page. And that’s the only reason it never existed. Best decision ever. It made me start thinking smaller scale. I still wanted a long, exciting setpiece, but I had to be able to write it. “Well, I introduced this nightclub very early on, and we’ve already been back there once, and so it seems to have some importance to the story. I suppose I could write something about something big happening in the nightclub that my protagonist has to prevent…”
Bingo. In the novel there’s a personal connection with the nightclub and my main character’s situation, so having the event there made good sense as it felt relevant to the story I’d been telling… and then, woah, the floodgates were open. “Well, if that happens then surely THIS happens and that’s then linked to that, and omg mind blown.”
By going for story instead of the random cool idea, I not only ended up with a much cooler setpiece, but it was one that tied in directly to the plot and had loads of branching-off points for the next part of the book. I even got to keep the exact final page to section two that I had always planned. Win-win.
So for once, I can offer a piece of writing advice without the usual caveat that this is just the way it works for me and it might not apply to you, etc etc: story first. Don’t be a BIRC.