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March 20, 2013

Gene Doucette: My Favorite Scene? It's Complicated

When asked to write this article I requested a question to answer, because otherwise I’d probably just type 1,000 words on something silly, like how a couple of friends of mine think the X on the cover looks like a K so they keep asking me when Fiker is coming out.

So it’s my own fault when the question posed—what is my favorite scene in Fixer and why—ended up giving me fits.

The plot is decidedly complex and has quite a few potential spoiler moments, so while I could have listed really excellent scenes, explaining them would have required first walking back and explaining what had happened to get to that point and probably giving away something important prematurely.

This is unfortunate, as there are a good number of nifty bits of writing I’m really proud of. Like this sentence: “Down the down the down the hall red line to the follow the elevator floor first floor to the follow the red line corridor down the corridor to the set of second set of elevators elev seventh floor seventh floor.”

You have to trust me, this makes complete sense in context.

I did briefly consider just widening my answer. For example, I really enjoy part two of the book and I’d love to say, “Look, part two was soooo much fun” and be done with it, except I’ve just said that I love basically 1/3 of my book. And when you say that you may as well also say, “I don’t like 2/3 of my own book” and that’s certainly not the impression I want to leave you with. (Because it’s not true. The whole book is great. You may not even like part two as much as part one, never mind part three which oh my God part three is fantastic. Yeah. Part three… Sorry, right, back to this article.)

So how I’m electing to answer this question is what my favorite scene was from a writing perspective, and I’m picking one scene in particular not because it’s uncommonly spectacular but because I hated writing it a lot, and it took me forever to get right.

Corrigan Bain, the main character of Fixer, can see a running five seconds of the future. What he does with this talent is save people who are about to have accidents of some degree of severity. Generally he needs to decide very quickly how to do this, because he’s not working with a bunch of time to spare, five seconds being only five seconds and all that.

There’s a part of the book where Corrigan witnesses something about to happen, but then the future splits into two possible outcomes, and here is where I ran into a problem. There is no tense in the English language—or I imagine in any other language although I can’t be sure—to describe events that are happening in the future but which then do not happen. As it is, I had a hell of a time describing things that were about to happen, but things that were about to happen that then did not happen, well… that was just a huge headache.

What I tried at first simply didn’t work. Technically, it wasn’t bad, because I used the future tense correctly, but the problem with the future tense is if you overuse it it’s exhausting, and you become convinced that what you’re reading is simply incorrect. Later iterations used mixes of future tense with past tense, present tense and slashes (happening/not happening) none of which were any better than any other version and a couple of which made me cry.

There was no single solution to this, exactly. Basically I kept rewriting it until it felt right and none of it caused me to have a seizure. The version in the book relies on present tense primarily, which while not actually being future tense feels like future tense because the rest of the book is in past tense. Plus there were a lot of, “except it didn’t happen because something changed” walk-backs from the action as it had just been described to help everyone keep things straight.

Hopefully this scene works for everyone, and by that I mean when you read the book it’s possible that you miss the scene I’ve just described and will have to go back and find it.

About the Author:

In addition to ghost writing for an immortal man, Gene Doucette has been published as a humorist with Beating Up Daddy: A Year in the Life of an Amateur Father and The Other Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: A Parody. He is also a screenwriter and a playwright. Gene lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife and two children.
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  1. OMG the idea of juggling tenses made my head hurt. Kudos for pulling it off!

  2. Gene Doucette, you should get an award for "Most Vague Answer to a Question." Yes, yes you should.

    FIXER is a great story. :)