Wednesday, 13 July 2011

That "I am the Doctor" Moment.

One of my things when I'm writing is that I write to music. I'm pretty sure most people who write do the same - certainly most people I know do. But one of the things I do is I tend to associate music with certain parts of my writing.

Those three sentences were just background, by the way, they have nothing to do with the meat of this blog entry.

Okay, Im sure you glanced at the title of this blog and went "What the hell is he talking about?" Well, I'm a Doctor Who fan, and since the Regeneration into the Eleventh Doctor, the fine folks at the BBC have used a certain musical refrain to indicate moments where the Doctor is about to be exceptionally awesome. This is that piece of music:

Its a live version, so there is the occasional giggle from the audience, but you get the idea. Now, what we have there is a musical cue. If you watch a program long enough, you begin to associate these cues with pieces of action. Another example is the Indiana Jones theme tune. Throughout the movies, when the music begins to kick in, you know that it's about to become a "Indy Kicks Ass" scene.

Now, the Audio Cue of "I am the Doctor" is a bit different, primarily because of the difference between Indiana Jones and The Doctor as characters. Indiana Jones is an action hero, whereas The Doctor is, essentially, a none-violent character. "I am The Doctor" is not an action Cue, but it is a quintessentially triumphant piece of music. Of course, an Audio Cue is nothing without context, so here's a scene from Matt Smith's first episode that illustrates exactly how the audio Cue of the initial strings riff on this track works:

Okay, so now we're all briefed up on the concept of the Audio Cue, what does that have to do with the way I'm trying to write my Novel?

Well, that kind of Crescendo moment is something that I've been looking to try and develop in my own work, and I've been looking for examples in other places of how it works. Now, some of these won't work exceptionally well out of context, so you're going to have to trust me on them. I'll try and explain them as best I can.

The first example, I've got, is one that, somewhat fortuitously, I came across today. I'm pretty sure that most people who've read a book... well, who've read a book will have heard of The Hound Of The Baskervilles. If you haven't, you're physically a disgrace to humanity.

But, having heard of the book isn't necessarily equivalent to having read it, so to give you the background to this section, and brief summary of the plot so far: Sir Charles Baskerville has died in suspicious circumstances, and Sherlock Holmes has been commissioned by his Heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, to investigate both the circumstances of Sir Charles' demise and the mysterious warnings that have been sent to attempt to discourage Sir Henry from taking up residence at Baskerville Hall. The Mystery deepens when the Baskerville Family legend of a demonic hellound stalking the family seems to be involved, with the footprint of a Large Dog having been found near Sir Charles' body. Holmes, for various reasons, elects to remain in London for the first part of the story, and sends his Erstwhile companion, Doctor Watson, to Devonshire with Sir Henry. To complicate things further, a notorious murderer has escaped onto the moors, and is involved with members of Sir Henry's household staff. While he and sir Henry chasing down Selden, the escaped convict, Watson spots a figure highlighted against the moon watching them. During his own investigations the next day, Watson has the trail to this second figure's hideout pointed out to him by a local busybody. Following the scent to a group of Neolithic houses, Watson finds a note from the Boy who has been carrying supplies to this mysterious figure...

"Dr. Watson has gone to Coombe Tracey."

For a minute I stood there with the paper in my hands thinking out the meaning of this curt message. It was I, then, and not Sir Henry, who was being dogged by this secret man. He had not followed me himself, but he had set an agent—the boy, perhaps—upon my track, and this was his report. Possibly I had taken no step since I had been upon the moor which had not been observed and reported. Always there was this feeling of an unseen force, a fine net drawn round us with infinite skill and delicacy, holding us so lightly that it was only at some supreme moment that one realized that one was indeed entangled in its meshes.

If there was one report there might be others, so I looked round the hut in search of them. There was no trace, however, of anything of the kind, nor could I discover any sign which might indicate the character or intentions of the man who lived in this singular place, save that he must be of Spartan habits and cared little for the comforts of life. When I thought of the heavy rains and looked at the gaping roof I understood how strong and immutable must be the purpose which had kept him in that inhospitable abode. Was he our malignant enemy, or was he by chance our guardian angel? I swore that I would not leave the hut until I knew.

Outside the sun was sinking low and the west was blazing with scarlet and gold. Its reflection was shot back in ruddy patches by the distant pools which lay amid the great Grimpen Mire. There were the two towers of Baskerville Hall, and there a distant blur of smoke which marked the village of Grimpen. Between the two, behind the hill, was the house of the Stapletons. All was sweet and mellow and peaceful in the golden evening light, and yet as I looked at them my soul shared none of the peace of Nature but quivered at the vagueness and the terror of that interview which every instant was bringing nearer. With tingling nerves but a fixed purpose, I sat in the dark recess of the hut and waited with sombre patience for the coming of its tenant.

And then at last I heard him. Far away came the sharp clink of a boot striking upon a stone. Then another and yet another, coming nearer and nearer. I shrank back into the darkest corner and cocked the pistol in my pocket, determined not to discover myself until I had an opportunity of seeing something of the stranger. There was a long pause which showed that he had stopped. Then once more the footsteps approached and a shadow fell across the opening of the hut.

"It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson," said a well-known voice. "I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in."

Okay, so the trick when reading that excerpt is to imagine the music coming in at the line "Then once more the footsteps approached and a shadow fell across the opening of the hut." The whole trick of this section, which Conan-Doyle plays magnificently, is that we are as blind to the identity of the stranger as Watson is, but from the moment he speaks, we realise that it is Holmes and that the day is saved, because the Hero has arrived on the scene. We know, from the moment Sherlock Holmes appears, that the endgame is upon us, and everything will be alright.

However, this moment of Triumph and sudden security is not the only way a "I Am The Doctor" moment can be used. Another example is this recent comic from Sluggy Freelance. I apologise for linking to the comic and not putting the image on here for convenience, but I refuse to steal Bandwidth from one of the most popular webcomics on the net.

I'm also not going to explain too much of the backstory here, because it is ENORMOUSLY complicated. Medical Nanobots are involved, as are alternative dimensions. To fully explain everything would far too long, but the brief notes version is that Riff - the guy in the trenchcoat - has been living in an alternate dimension for two years, and his friend Zoe - the girl at the end of the strip - was transported there with him. due to various reasons, Zoe's mind was wiped, leaving her with no memories or any kind of function; not quite vegetative, but somewhere in between.

Now, heres where the other side of the "IATD" moment comes in. This is a slightly different concept where the hero gambles everything - life, sanity, health and wealth - to achieve one single goal: in this case, restoring Zoe to her original buoyant state. These plots and gambles are, by necessity, highly convoluted and complicated, as the explanation given by Riff in the comic shows. With comic strips, you have to imagine the time delay between frames to give yourself the sort of cinematic flow. The place for the Audio Cue to kick in in that scenario is slightly different - rather than a buildup to the reveal, its the buildup to the Victory, the true triumphant moment, where the gamble is shown to have paid off - when Zoe reappears as herself, rather than in her vegetative state.

These are just two examples, but when I was reading both, I was playing the piece of music in my head as I read them. Now, it's easy to spot this kind of moment on TV or film, but writing them in prose of in a comic the way Conan-Doyle and Pete Abrams did in these examples, is to me one of the best - and most difficult parts of trying to write a story, and something I aspire to be able to do. If I ever read back over what I've written and get the little buzz of anticipation burst that piece of music gives me, I know I'll have done good.

No comments: