Come join me Sunday, July 30th!

Come join me Sunday, July 30th!
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore- San Diego

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Space Slug, the Dog, and the Glass Rocking Chair

 
Today I thought I’d talk a bit about how we as writers use our words to control what the reader sees. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Of course our words control what the reader experiences! We’re the WRITER!
Ah, but sometimes books go askew when the writer forgets that whatever they focus on will be focused on by the reader as well.
For example—think of your book as being told through a camera. You aim it at your protagonist coming home-- he fixes dinner, he sits down to watch TV, then he finds an alien space slug behind his sofa. You’ve aimed the camera to show all of that.
Now imagine all of that, but you wander off and start aiming the camera at the dog. The dog isn’t doing anything, and has become friends with the vicious alien space slug so he’s not even reacting to it.
But your camera loves that dog. Maybe he’s a text representation of your own dog. And you are really good at describing that dog. Meanwhile the reader is thinking, “OH! The writer has the camera aimed at the dog—something must happen with the dog!”
Then nothing happens with the dog.
It’s that gun sitting on the shelf in chapter one, that never got used.
If you as the writer focus the camera on something—especially if you give it lots of detail—we as the reader will be looking for that thing, item, event, to be important later on.
For myself as a reader, if an author screws this up this once, I’m ready to walk away from the book. They do it twice and that book is air born in a trajectory meant to land in a “give away” book pile. To me that author has broken the sacred rule- they made me focus on something with no meaning to the story.
This can happen for a few reasons, but mostly it boils down to forgetting and falling in love.
1) Forgetting: this is when the author really meant to do something with the dog—but then forgot the bit or edited it out. That’s well and good, except that the author forgot to take ALL of the bits of intense focus of the dog out. This doesn’t mean we can’t see the dog, just that it shouldn’t be an intense detailed focus. ‘There is a dog’ verses ‘a full, elaborate description’ of said dog.
 
2) Falling in love: not the characters- but the writer. Sometimes we do too much research on something. We have all of this information to describe it- say it’s a Victorian fire poker. So we put all of that loving detail, how it was used, what it’s made of, how it shines in the firelight into our book. Then don’t ever show it again. The writer may love their words so much that they feel the reader should as well. Guess what, the reader ain’t gonna care. If that poker isn’t important- we don’t need the detail. Not every bit of researched information needs to go in the book. TRUST ME.
So make sure you are focusing on things the reader needs to know to enjoy your story- nothing more, nothing less.
OH! And next week there will be PRIZES!! Next week will be my 200th Blog Post- wooo hoooo! Come on by and have some virtual cake and ice cream.
(And if you’re wondering about the glass rocking chair in the title of this blog- then I’ve just demonstrated my point. ;))

7 comments:

  1. Excellent post!

    I'm working on my first novel and am already learning about falling in love. My first draft contained some lines that I, well... loved. However, now that I am making revisions I have had to grit my teeth and cut several of them because they simply didn't add to the story.

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    1. Thank you, Linda! It's hard to let our favorites go, isn't it! I almost always save them in a separate folder--just incase I "need" them later. never do, but I feel better knowing they are there ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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    2. Lol Marie - I do the same thing!

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  2. Enjoyed the blog! Sometimes I do wonder just how much description do you need to give. I know we want the story to be fairly believable. But do I really need to name the drug that made my heroine loose her memories? How do I merge backstory? How much is too much? Such is the life of a new writer. I know, I know...it's what makes the story move forward. Thanks

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    1. Thanks, Mary! It's so hard to cut all those great things out when we had to work to get them there on the page! Just keep telling yourself you're making it better :).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  3. Excellent points, Marie. And I, like others, hate to get rid of the things I love, but for the good of the story I understand slashing and burning may be required.
    Speaking of loves... I critiqued a story the other day in which a character appeared for the space of a few paragraphs having arrived on the "scene" by mistake. He soon left never having done anything important, never to reappear or be mentioned again. When I questioned the author as to why the character was in the story I was told, "I just love it when characters make mistakes". Huh? As you say, putting things into our stories for no other reason than we love them is a big mistake. And heaven forbid you consider it an inside joke because your reader won't.
    BTW, where can I find a beautiful Victorian fire poker? I think I have a character who needs offing and that would make a elegant weapon. ;}

    Sharon

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    1. Oh wow, Sharon...that guy needs help. Maybe it's a good thing he's enjoying his characters mistakes so much--not one else ever will. I have to admit, that's a new one!

      LOL- I'm sure there is a description of a fire poker somewhere...too bad you can't Google the innards of books ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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