Thursday, May 3, 2012

Simplifying the story

I recently read three blog posts, very close in time, that addressed a similar topic. When the Universe jumps up and down waving its arms in my face that way, I figure I shouldn't ignore that signal.

Here's Jenny Gordon: "... I’ve recently printed up my old novels ... and this week, I’ve been reading those two dark fantasy novels ...
And man! Are they hard-going!!!!
It’s partly due to the fact that I was still learning my craft that they’re full of so much exposition, but it’s also because of all that world-building I did, and wanted to share.
It’s a rich, vibrant world to be sure, but did I really need to write so much of it into the stories?"

And now Tabitha Olsen: "... the very first time I sat down to write a story, I couldn’t wait to tell the reader everything. ... Literally, everything that happened in the story, as well as a fair bit of research, was included. You can imagine the big mess I ended up with. :)"

Finally, taking a slightly different road through what I view as the same neighborhood, Anna Staniszewski: "If you have to spend a lot of time explaining the rules and making sure your readers 'get them,' then you might be making things overly complex. And sometimes, that can be a big turn-off for readers."

In other words: don't let elaborate story-telling (whether setting, plot, backstory, characterization, style or tone) drag down the essential thing, which is the story itself.

p.s. If you have a taste for live book events, I'll be at the Hudson (NY) Book Festival this Saturday, May 5, from 10 to 4; and I'll be at Books of Wonder in NY City on May 19 from noon to 2 (even if you can't make the latter event in person, you can order signed books via the link).

8 comments:

  1. Now you've got me thinking about the first draft of my first novel in which I described the preparation of an entire meal in excruciating detail. ^_^

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    1. All that detail might be necessary to the story. It depends on the book. The preparation of a meal can tell us a lot about the character and can be integral to the plot. Or it could just be wallpaper. I'm sure you'll figure it out! :-)

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  2. I've had this overwhelming desire to make a series of Youtube videos of me reading one of my very first novels... it would just be freaking hilarious, I would be laughing too hard to read :P

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    1. It's amazing how time changes our perception of a work's quality! I guess the upside is that, in this way, we can tell we're getting better ...

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  3. I've read a few great books lately in which the author successfully worked in a lot of setting. I realized their trick to keep it from bogging down the story was to make the characters interact with the setting, not simply describe it. Some world building that's boring in draft can be punched up in revision this way.

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    1. Yes, the aspects of setting that are described should be described for a reason!

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  4. I did a ton of telling in my first novel--must be some kind of instinctive thing for writers and their first project. There were pages and pages of explanation of the setting and I went overboard with describing architecture.

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    1. In my very first stories, I didn't even realize there was stuff I could, let alone should, leave out!

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