Ah, hell. This is one of those that’ll make you feel all the feels. I just know it. Also, I have Rebecca here with me and she’ll talk about how she likes to “Plotsing’. What’s that? Keep reading!
The story is At Shutter Speed by Rebecca Burrell, an Adult, Contemporary story published a few days back.
In the click of a shutter, #Resistance becomes more than just a hashtag.
Pass the bar exam. Convince someone—anyone—in the Egyptian government to admit they’ve imprisoned your husband. Don’t lose your mind. For fledgling human rights attorney Leah Cahill, the past six months have been a trial by fire, ever since Matty, a respected but troubled war photojournalist, disappeared during a crackdown in Cairo.
Leah, the daughter of a civil rights icon, grew up wanting to change the world; Matty was the one who showed her she could. Though frustrated by the US government’s new fondness for dictators, she persists, until a leaked email reveals a crumbling democracy far closer to home.
Risking her own freedom, she gains proof Matty’s being detained at a U.S. ‘black site’, stemming from his work covering the refugee crisis in Syria. Armed with his photo archives, Leah plunges into their past together, a love story spanning three continents. She uncovers secrets involving Matty’s missionary childhood, her own refugee caseload, and the only story the deeply principled reporter ever agreed to bury. It’s what got him captured—and what might still get him killed. With Leah’s last chance to save him slipping away, Matty’s biggest secret may be one he’s willing to die to protect.
The Space Between: Plotting and Pantsing
Religion versus Science. Cat Person versus Dog Person. Red Sox versus Yankees. In the storied canon of intractable debates, few things generate as much passion amongst authors as the choice between plotter and pantster. Sides are chosen, the trenches are dug. But is there a middle ground?
A pantster might find the idea of having to write a synopsis or outline like a stranglehold on their creativity. For a plotter, the idea of working without a net may feel disorganized or even paralyzing. For me personally, there are aspects of both approaches that I struggle with. When I do outline, it tends to turn into this enormous, detailed document describing key scenes or even exchanges of dialogue between characters. But then, as the saying goes, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. As soon as I start writing, the characters take the wheel and nothing goes as I expect. My ten-page outline derails somewhere around the third paragraph, or my word count is clearly going to be three times too long, and oops, it’s back to the drawing board. Or the 80k words I was allotted start looking like they’re going to be 120k. On the other hand, if at that point I ditch it and just let fly, I usually end up stuck and flailing, not knowing where the story goes next.
For me, the solution turns out to be blending the two approaches. (Plotsing?) Rather than a detailed outline, I flesh out a set of three broad-stroke turning points, along with an inciting incident. Usually I sketch out the ending as well, but sometimes I can’t see it when I’m starting out. Each turning point represents an escalation of the tension in the story, and each must make it more difficult (preferably impossible) for the character to turn back. Each one takes the form ‘What is my character’s problem, how does she try to solve it, and what are the consequences of that attempt?’ I find that doing it this way allows me to retain the magic of discovering how the character reacts to a particular situation while still ensuring that the story is driving somewhere at a pace that’s appropriate for the story. If you’ve written yourself into the corner and can’t get out, or if your outline has become a tombstone, take a step towards the middle and try it out!
Looking back, I should’ve known she’d be the love of my life. We were more or less living together by that night.
With snow falling outside, we’d gone over to Jack’s to pick up my crap. While I packed chemicals and equipment, the two of them talked in hushed tones. From the sadness in her eyes, I knew he’d told her about Rani.
Forget two weeks—Jack said the editor at MoJo wanted five thousand words plus photos before Christmas. Go edgy, he said. You’re angry—make him angry too.
Angry. Maybe I was, but until Rani got killed, I would’ve said ‘concerned’. I was ‘concerned’ about the minefield markers I saw wherever the hell we went. I was ‘concerned’ by the English or Chinese or Hebrew or Cyrillic markings on the damn things in places Americans and Chinese and Israelis and Russians had no business being. I was ‘concerned’ by one-legged kids hopping through fields or wearing eye patches, or worse, their mothers prostrate and sobbing in some makeshift field clinic. Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Mozambique—the damn things were everywhere.
While I switched negatives around on the lightbox, nursing a Heineken, Leah was lying on the rug, ankles crossed, going through my archives while she hummed along with some old Ella Fitzgerald recording she’d stolen from her dad. It was a little bittersweet, a little sad, and completely perfect. Having her there kept the evil thoughts at bay, but they came back any time I tried to come up with words to go around the photos. Words were Rani’s job. Me taking it over meant he was really gone.
“I can’t believe you still use film,” Leah said, flipping between contact sheets. “Wouldn’t this be easier on a computer?”
“I’m old school, baby.” Digital sucked. Faces came out flat and uninspired, colors weren’t natural, lines were too sharp. The grains in real film gave better images. It was the feel, the rhythm, the yield of the shutter under my finger, the sound when I flipped the advance lever, the game of timing the shots that counted. Or maybe I was just stubborn.
“Think of it like sex.”
She rolled sideways, head resting on her hand. “Oh boy. This should be good.”
Couldn’t help it, the way she was lying there, I could see right down her shirt. “Digital is like porn—it’s quick, easy, gets the job done. Film is like the girl you’ve had your eye on for months slipping you her room key.”
Mischief danced in her eyes. “If your daddy could hear you talk…”
“My dirty mind was the least of his problems.” Grease pencil in hand, I grabbed a random contact sheet and sat next to her on the floor. The sheet was a few years old, from the Intifada, a rock-throwing exchange between a teenage Palestinian girl and an IDF soldier who hadn’t been much older. “It’s a whole different process when you’ve only got thirty-six exposures on a roll. You can’t construct a scene, you have to figure out how to structure the shot from what’s there—what you fit in, what you leave out, all of it.”
She scanned the sheet, which was covered in grease paint scribbles, rectangles and crosses. “What do all these marks mean?”
“Blue is me, red is Jack. If we both boxed a certain frame, good chance it’s the money shot. The rest are crop marks, areas that need dodging or burning, things like that.”
Leah’s troubled gaze hovered between two marked-up frames in the third row. I’d probably blitzed through the whole roll in under a minute, and it hadn’t ended well for the girl. “Why did you both pick this one, where she’s curling the rock in her hand? Didn’t you want to show what happened to her?”
The sheet was radioactive one way or the other, especially for an American paper. “Look again. Tell me what she’s thinking in the first one.”
“Maybe she’s deciding where to aim. Or whether it’s worth the risk of throwing it.”
“Could be anything. That’s what a photo is. The person outside a photo can ponder it forever if they want, but the person inside is frozen at that one moment in time.” I stuck the sheet into the box. “Besides, showing her as a victim robs her of agency. She was a person who made a choice, and something drove her to be there. Same with the soldier who shot her. Whether it was a good or bad one isn’t my place to say.”
She stretched back on her hands. “Be honest. You have an opinion on the subject.”
“But you’re not going to tell me what it is.”
- Grand Prize: Writer to Reader TLC Package
- 3x Paperback (or eBook) copy of At Shutter Speed with custom bookmark