owl in winter

owl in winter

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Couple of....Rules


Yes, sorry, writing rules, in fact. Here are a few ideas to make your work better, and help it stand out to agents and editors. Some of this may seem elementary if you've been on the road for awhile but, we all have our pitfalls and need to be reminded every so often of the things that will tank our wonderous work.

1. Show, don't tell. We show through emotions, through reaction to an event, through dialogue. There is no need, or not a lot of need, to describe a character through and through; certain choice glimpses into his character, needs, wants, emotions will work. Let your reader decide whether John Jones is anal by saying something like, "his shoes were shined just that morning," rather than going through an entire paragraph about his suit, his haircut, his attention to detail, his shoes. Also, suppose John Jones heard a noise in the hallway and decided to check it out. There is no need to document his every step to the apartment door and how he opened the door and scanned the hallway and then closed the door when he saw nothing occuring. He may have been startled by a noise, and then he may be mystified as to what he thought he heard but, you do not need to describe to your reader how he started for the door, took hold of the knob, pulled the door open, peered into the empty hallway, and then closed the door by the knob and went back to watching television.

2. Providing information the reader could just as well pick up through action or dialogue. This goes back to showing rather than telling. Nothing will insult your readership more than being given a blow-by-blow detail of your story as if they are not intelligent enough to pick up the details for themselves. Let's say John Jones is late for an important meeting. Do we say that or do we have him check his watch, something impossible is happening, he's sweating, he's dashing to the street, he's impatient with the cab driver, his impeccable suit is now wrinkled, his concern about being late to the meeting could be described as, Tugging his upper lip, he stared out the cab window at the passing street scenery. The cab wasn't moving fast enough. The mid-city traffic was clustered and stumbling, halting and then moving again. John stared at the back of the cabbie's head, willing him to hurry,  hurry, just hurry up already! Turning his gaze to the rear view mirror, he saw how wrinkled his suit had become in the morning humidity. He felt personally insulted, as if the day had planned this whole humilating situation just for him.

It's not great but there's some action there, some sense of urgency. Now. Here's another way. John Jones looked at his watch. It was 10:15 and he was almost late for his appointment. He went to the elevator and punched the button for the ground floor. Once there, he walked to the sidewalk and hailed a cab. He was impatient. He told the cabbie to get him to 101 52nd Street as soon as possible. He sat in the back seat. His suit was wrinkled. He was unhappy that his presentation would not go well because he didn't look his best.

Which sounds better to you?

3. Too  much exposition, not enough dialogue, OR vice versa. Your work should have a pretty even percentage of each. Too much exposition drags the reader down, and doesn't let him/her see or feel the characters for who they are. Too much exposition builds a wall between believability and your work. Your reader won't be able to bond with characters that seldom speak. Too much dialogue, on the other hand, is confusing and lessens the character for your reader, the blabbermouth syndrome.

Pages and pages of dialogue are not good. By the same token, pages and pages of exposition or narrative don't work well.  Balance it out. It's all about balance, seriously.

Just a couple of things to think about in your writing. I wish you well.

Finally, can you describe the scene in the photograph? What would you write about it and why?

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