L.B.: The Longest Day

L.B.: The Longest Day May 11, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 227-308

The pattern in Left Behind is to skip back and forth between our dual heroes, so having just completed a scene with Buck, we're about to get to a Rayford scene. This is a common tactic in an story involving multiple protagonists and I don't think there's any one single way of doing this right.

There are, however, ways of doing this wrong, and this being LB, our authors have managed to find such a way.

By "wrong" I mean switching back and forth, arbitrarily and arrhythmically, in such a way that the reader is confused about when and where the action is taking place. These scenes do not need to follow a symmetrical, linear pattern, but if Mr. Smith is flying all over the world over the course of several months, then readers will be a bit confused if this account is interspersed with scenes of Mr. Jones in which he is always in his living room at 3 o'clock on Thursday.

Here's a rough timeline of the first full Monday of the Apocalypse:

1. Morning, Buck at JFK international arrivals (after a red-eye from Germany and breezing through customs with a fake passport).

2. Morning, Rayford & Chloe en route to O'Hare.

3. Morning, Buck & Steve at JFK and Central Park (trip from airport to midtown takes about 10 minutes).

4. Midday, Rayford & Chloe in Atlanta.

5. Afternoon, Buck & Steve at the U.N. for Nicolae's big speech.

6. "Rush hour late Monday afternoon," Rayford & Chloe touch down at O'Hare.

7. Afternoon, Buck & Steve at Nicolae's post-speech presser.

8. Evening, Rayford at home. He has driven from the airport to the suburbs, stopping for groceries on the way in less than an hour.

9. Evening, Buck & Steve at Buck's apartment.

10. Evening, Rayford & Chloe drive to the church, go shopping at Best Buy, and return home to talk to Hattie on the phone.

11. 11 p.m., Buck & Steve catch a cab to the Potters in time for Nightline at 11:30.

12. 11:30 p.m. in New York, 10:30 in Illinois, where Rayford & Chloe watch Nightline.

13. Tuesday, about 12:30 a.m., Buck & Steve at the Plaza.

14. Monday, about 11:30 p.m., Rayford & Chloe at home.

15. Tuesday, until about 1:30 a.m., Buck & Nicolae at the Plaza.

16. Monday into early Tuesday, Rayford & Chloe at home.

17. Tuesday, about 2 a.m., Buck returns to his apartment.

So that's 17 scenes played out over 81 pages, during which we have a half-dozen cab rides and phone calls, and we encounter law enforcement officials from four different agencies. But for all of that, surprisingly little happens.

The authors of novels don't have to worry about building sets for every scene, like they would if this were a movie, and they don't have to worry about scene changes, like they would if this were a play. Despite this luxury, it's still good for novelists to learn from the necessary economies of filmmakers and stage managers.

Several of the above scenes are redundant — the sort of thing that wouldn't even pass muster as bonus material for a DVD. When looked at scene-by-scene in this way, it becomes clear that Left Behind is a published first draft. The authors didn't bother with any rewriting. They never even bothered with re-reading. Respect for craft and respect for your audience go hand in hand. Likewise, disrespect for craft and disrespect for your audience go hand in hand. The 81 pages outlined above ought to have been reduced to 40 or even 30 pages. It would have been easy.

Anyway, I needed to write out the timeline above for my own sake, to keep me from getting lost (like the authors did) in this Long Monday. Consider this one more entry in the vast catalogue of the many different ways in which Left Behind fails as a piece of writing.

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