I’ve been thinking of cutting angles, recently, and like most of my thoughts, I’ve tried to apply the concept to writing. I really don’t know why I draw those connections. I guess it’s because I think of writing a lot, so anything else I think about gets twisted along well-travelled neural pathways.
So let’s lay the groundwork. Cutting angles.
Most good fighters cut angles. That means that they don’t slug it out head on. By changing the angle of attack in unpredictable ways, a fighter will land strikes more often and suffer fewer counter strikes, and weaker counter strikes if they try to keep in mind that they should move away from their opponent’s power side.
When I kickboxed, I attacked straight on, both because it’s the traditional Muay Thai style, and because I’m just not very nimble. I tried to make up for the lack of angles by taking advantage of the length of my limbs. Still, I would have gotten punched less if I hadn’t stood right in front of my sparring partner.
But I do cut angles in another activity: first person shooter video games. Specifically Battlefield 3. I’m generally good at video games, and very good at Battlefield 3. The funny thing is, I have very slow reflexes. If Battlefield 3 were a twitch-fest like some other shooters, the little kids would own me. But it’s not. It’s an extremely strategic game in all aspects. And in the aspect of combat, having good aim and fast reflexes isn’t as important as knowing the maps and utilizing them to ensure that encounters happen at the distance of your choice.
If you’re carrying an assault rifle, you sweep wide around corners, and equip a secondary shotgun when you go into a building composed of staircases and small rooms. If you’re carrying a carbine, you make sure your encounters don’t happen at a distance versus assault rifles, but don’t happen so close up that you get wasted by someone carrying a shotgun or SMG. If you’ve got a shotgun, you better duck around a corner when someone sees you from a distance and either hope they come chasing after so that you can ambush them from 20 feet away, or work your way through cover until you get the drop on them. In other words, you cut angles. If you can do this, you’ll win nearly every time.
So, the angle of attack is important. And this got me thinking of something I said in my last post, that there’s no break in the spectrum of my writing, with horror at one end and literary at the other. But that’s not accurate. Whether something is realistic or fantastic has nothing to do with if it’s literary. The opposite of literary writing is probably writing that’s purely for entertainment. Writing that isn’t meant to make an emotional impression, or a lasting one. Some of my horror falls into that category, but not much (though I can only comment on my intent, not the effect). The reason is that I write what I like, and if I want escapism--pure entertainment--I’ll typically go for a movie or video game (that’s just me. I’m not making a broad value judgment).
So what matters is the angle of approach. The literary horror angle involves attention to language, emotion, and above all else, character. It doesn’t mean overwritten, pompous, or boring. It doesn't mean the work can't be violent and disturbing. It means that the reader comes out the piece viewing the world differently than when she went into it. It means that the horrific becomes an angle to get through the reader’s defenses and strike vulnerable spots.
Now that I’ve wrung every bit of juice from that analogy…