Contrast, Pacing and Secrets in Project Purple

SM (Snarky Muse): Why so glum?

Me: I’m an Indie writer with marketing blues. Someone’s got to sell the stuff I write, and the family cat (now licking its butt on the windowsill with an impressive leg extension) isn’t exactly volunteering. 

SM: So, it’s all up to you. 

Me: Yeah, but I get distracted. First, I have to check my Gmail to see if that person ever responded to my request for a review. Then I need to go check my Yahoo to see if the girl on Fiver has responded to enlarging the cover, because I didn’t know that pink pages, instead of the white, require a larger cover size, and I don’t know how to do that stuff. 

SM: Maybe you should learn.

Me: Meanwhile, my young daughter is inviting her friends into the house downstairs and partying with raucous games of tag, while I’m up here trying to assess whether I have bad breath or not: I breathe out, then jump over real quick and receive the exhalation.

SM: (rolling eyes) How’s that going?

Me:  It’s inconclusive. 

SM: Thank you for sharing. Let’s talk about Project Purple. The blurb reads as such:

“Thirteen Americans volunteer for a unique three-month project to recreate America’s early colonial experience for a worldwide on-line audience.   

The colonists have been deceived. They don’t know their ordeal has been gradually, brutally, altered by their organizers, and a genuine struggle for food, shelter and survival turns deadly as an Arctic winter approaches.  

Is there some point to this insanity? The besieged Americans (including a police detective who throws his world away to rescue a colonist he knows only as the Goatwench) must find the primal survivor within themselves to counter the ever-increasing violence they face—all to the attentive schooling of their multi-national audience.”

SM: How are the reviews?

Me: Pretty good, actually. Online Book Club just gave it four out of four stars, and they’re quite on the stingy side dispensing these stars. Project Purple’s got a lot of conflict, externally and internally… Everyone knows what conflict is, right? It’s the basis of drama, character, plot. It creates an engaging story. Characters out of place make for interesting situations. 

I think of contrast as another form of conflict. I’m talking about making sure of a sharp difference between characters and setting, and I think that contrast is one big reason the story Project Purple is such a compelling work. Contrast adds personality to the story: thirteen unsuspecting Americans, misled, suddenly thrust into the nether of the Russian tundra. 

Fish out of water. 

The colonists are the opposite of one another. They are liberal, they’re conservative, they’re Christian, they’re Atheists. They press one another for peace, for concessions, or for war, for violence. They all have to fight for survival, but they come to this realization in their own ways because of their backgrounds

They are as opposite to one another as I can get them. 

SM: It’s loaded with secrets, isn’t it?

Me. It’s a story with secrets, all right. Secrets help drive it. Sometimes readers know about the secrets and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes readers figure things out based on clues throughout the story. But the secret of using secrets is to come very close to revealing the secret without actually doing so. And this can turn scenes into nail biting reading experiences. 

The biggest secret, I suppose, is what the shadowy group of Internationals—the Rhizome—really want.  What are they after? But there are other secrets, just as important: Why are the colonials keeping things from each other? Because they’ve got dark secrets, too. The secrets are the reason the colonials find themselves where they are. The policeman, Rigor, has a secret, too, and that’s why he’s slowly lured into the Rhizome.

SM: Isn’t it a challenge finding the right pacing when intertwining so many character threads? 

Me: You bet. Chuck Palahniuk says, “I try to tell a story the way someone would tell you a story in a bar, with the same kind of timing and pacing.” 

Pacing was a concern in this story. I was careful not to input too much of the historical data, as that’s when, as a reader, eyelids grow heavy and brain function appears to slow down. 

SM: It’s boring.  

Me: Project Purple could have had structural problem. Spending too much time on the colonials reliving life in the year 1613, and on the trials of developing the colony would have distressed plot development. 

SM: Is that why you created the policeman?

Me: (nodding) To break up the colonial endeavor with another, illuminating insight into the machinations of the Rhizome. But poor scene construction, or poor overall story construction would have been a much bigger problem. If any scenes had read slowly, I would have had to examine the conflict once again: Is it insufficient?  Is it overwritten? Are there too many words? Is it all just too fancy?

I wanted to create 13 fascinating, three-dimensional characters with over-the-top problems that would hold readers transfixed, and their eyelids wouldn’t grow heavy; their brain functions wouldn’t slow. I wanted readers to care what happened next. I think a story with terrific characters and terrific plot give readers a fast read—because they care. On the other hand, mundane characters with weak plot challenges will ensure a slow-paced read. 

SM: So, contrast, pacing, and secrets are all a big part of the success of Project Purple?

Me:  Jeff Buckley said: “I’m always writing and reflecting in life. I want to suck it all in.”

SM: Well, happy sucking. What’s that noise downstairs? 

Me: It sounds like a game of tag with ten-year-olds. (Standing and stretching) Guess it’s time for a little exercise.


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