Writing Update: April 19, 2011
I got stuck this last week. Stuck deep in the mud of telling and not showing in my work in progress. For a writer, the sin of telling the reader something, instead of showing the reader through the eyes of your character or their reactions is the equivalent to breaking four of the ten commandments. You hear about this in every writers course and session, and read about it in every book on writing. All of us do it from time to time. Sometimes you have to do it. Sometimes you do need to do it for a couple of lines, or maybe a paragraph. But I did it for an entire chapter. And when I finished typing the last word of the chapter, I knew I was doomed. What’s worse, I actually knew it while I was typing, and couldn’t stop myself.
So I spent four days unraveling the mess of a chapter, and what I spent one chapter telling, will probably take me four chapters to show. But that’s okay, because it was a major incident, and it affected all the characters differently, and my main character has to deal with all of these people. This incident will shape these characters, and that needs to come out in what they say and what they do, not in what they saw.
The trouble started when I took my main character out of the room where and when the incident happened. I did it because it wasn’t logical for him to be there at the time. He arrives later, after all the action is done, and is left to clean up the mess. It’s a big mess, and he needs to know what happened because it will affect him. But I can’t have him just ask one person, because the event was very traumatic for all involved, and just the act of recalling it will be even more traumatic, and he knows this. So he’s got to slowly extract the details through a number of conversations, and I have the job of finding a way for him to do it so that the reader doesn’t get bored and/or frustrated. My original strategy was for him to read the ‘police report’, but that was the very definition of telling, and using props to do it is just an excuse for lazy writing.
So instead, those witnesses will talk to him – will ask him for advice, or won’t ask or won’t talk to him, and from that, he will have to gain details or suppositions that may lead to further conflict within the story. There will still be the police report, but it will not have the details needed to fill in all the gaps. He won’t know the mental state of the antagonist and the victim, for instance, but he can guess, and form his own opinions and prejudices. And that’s a more powerful tool in the toolbox of storytelling than just giving the reader everything in one big narrative dump.
The other issue I ran into this week is a pacing issue. As usual, the story is evolving as I write it, and what I thought would take a third of my 70000-80000 word quota, is now sitting at 32000, with still another 16000-20000 words to go. I’ve let my mind begin to accept that this may turn into what Ben Newland (my critique buddy) referred to last night as a ‘duet’. I’ve never heard that term in regards to books before, but it seems to work. Basically, I can now see my original plot split over two books in the 70000 word range. I’m a little bit short on this first one, but there are lots of places where I can add conflict without feeling like I am completely pumping the story full of whip cream.
Also, the further I’ve gotten into this story, the more I like the world I’ve created for it, and I can see a hundred other stories that could be vaguely connected to it, and it wouldn’t necessarily involve the main characters as they stand now. But, like Cherie Priest has created with her Clockwork Century books, I could see keeping the world I have built alive for a number of different plots. That excites me.
Aside from the work on the book, you’ve also probably noticed a distinct uptick in my blog writing here. I can’t say that I will be able to keep up this pace, especially once I get back to commuting to may day job full time again in the next few weeks, but I really enjoy writing these blog entries, and doing the reviews, and just writing. The more I write, the more I love it. I’ve even considered trying to find some freelance work to do – as if I’m not already busy enough. But writing doesn’t seem like work. It relaxes me and soothes me, and I look forward to these evening blogging sessions more and more all the time.