There are plenty of warning signs. The nooze outlets lead with the blizzard that closed I-94 north and west of here. The air starts to get thick and colder, falling through the freezing point a bit too easily. The pressure takes a nosedive, giving Human Barometers like myself a deep headache that lays on top of everything I do. It all comes down to a sense of impending doom, a feeling that something bad is about to happen. That’s what makes really bad weather the greatest show the middle of a big continent
These things rarely sneak up on us in the Midwest. A surprise snow or ice storm almost never happens, in part because meteorology has gotten pretty good lately; we might bitch about them missing a few inches of snow but they always get the placement well. That’s the way it should be. It’s not just that we can plan based on the information – we can worry. That’s as good as a well-written novel.
Any good story that has bad things happen to the characters – and it wouldn’t be a story if it didn’t – needs a sense of impending doom to keep the reader going through the inevitable lulls. If it’s done properly, a delicious taste of inevitable disaster will slowly ramp up the adrenaline flow like a good meal with a hot date. It’s the anticipation that is the real moment In a book, it’s the anticipation that turns the pages.
Compare all of this to a bad event that no one saw coming, not for a moment. The events of 9/11 are the most obvious example of something that came out of nowhere. That’s what a horror is, a moment where you feel totally helpless and out of control. In a literary sense, one such moment is hard to make a novel out of – the adrenaline is spent quiclkly. You need to string together a bunch of those, a series of moments where Freddy or Jason still lives and pops back at ya.
The recent financial mess was like that for most people, even though a lot of us saw it coming. We were left to stomp and scream as if no one was listening, which they weren’t. While it’s a kind of slow torture, it’s hard to make a good story out of it all the same. The boil has to be a little heavier.
That’s the problem I have writing in the first person. The narrator is not only unreliable, but just a bit clueless. The reader has to see what’s coming even as he walks right into it. That’s not a great story in and of itself, so the sense of impending doom has to keep rising. The warning bells have to gradually become louder and louder, and the main character has to be so diverted he keeps ignoring them – deliberately, if possible.
I’ve re-written parts of a chapter that leads into the climax of my novel because, frankly I have to have all of these things going on at the same time. There’s a rising obsession that allows the warning bells to go unheard along with a rising sense of impending doom, plus a good dollop of extra character development to go along with it. It’s a lot to call at once, and so far I haven’t done a good job.
I think I’ll get into it and get it right a bit later. Not now, however. There’s a sense of impending doom in the air itself that I want to savor a bit. Savor, and get to understand. It’s not about the moment the storm hits, after all, because that’s just a lot of snow.