HOW TO COVER UP RAMBLING AND EXPOSITION
Since I’m not a literary writer or reader, I’m no fan of rambling and exposition. My mantra is “Get to the point!” With that in mind, I present my loaded article title.
I think it’s best not to be too long-winded in the first place. However, some authors just can’t help themselves. That’s one reason I am not fan of Stephen King, for one. Another is the inspiration for this article—Dean Koontz, who…well, read on.
ON AGAIN – OFF AGAIN
I used to be a big fan of Dean Koontz. Back in the early 90’s, I ate up everything he wrote. He was the master of icky bug. He wrote horror (icky bug) till the cows came home (ha ha). His stories sometimes had monsters, but could also be supernatural. They’d be loaded with character development but it wasn’t overbearing and the stories moved.
Then something changed.
Maybe it was when he wrote Mr. Murder that I saw the change coming. Though I sort of enjoyed that one, I didn’t like it as much as his more supernatural tomes. The rambling seemed to go on and on in that story. It made me squirm, waiting to get to the end and not in a good way. Then he drifted into other realms and even shifted point of view to first-person. Those of you who know me know what I think of first-person. Over the decades, I’d sample his books when he’d write in third-person. I even tried one first-person tome with his first Odd-Thomas story, but could barely get through it.
I found his later work not only more literary, but sappy. I can take a little sappy. On the other hand, he seemed to be competing with Stephen King for word count. The rambling and exposition made his stories crawl.
The other day, I saw a brand new hardback called Ashley Bell in Barnes & Noble. Fully expecting it to be first-person, I leafed through it. To my surprise, Dean wrote it in third. I also noticed something else. Short chapters.
To my surprise, Dean Koontz took a move right out of the James Patterson playbook. He went for short chapters. To add a little flair, he also gave witty titles to each chapter. This added a bit of magic to the prose.
The tome was over five-hundred plus pages. Dean still likes to ramble, he still has the penchant for literary exposition and narrative. He also likes deep character development, at least of his main character.
The difference, and what made this book a lot more enjoyable (ahem—tolerable to those with a short attention span) was the short chapters.
SHORT CHAPTERS FORCES ACTION AND STORY MOVEMENT
With short chapters and/or scenes, you’re forced to begin, have a middle and an end to each chapter or scene. By doing this, something has to happen. The magic of that is that by something happening, the story has to move!
That’s right folks, though you might want to ramble about the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, you won’t be able to bore the socks off the reader if you know you have to end it by making something happen.
If you have twenty pages to conclude a chapter, a whole lot of nothing can happen over a long period. If you have four pages to conclude a chapter, you have a lot less time to make something happen. Therefore, the story moves more.
There’s another archaeological thriller author who also holds a PHD in the subject. His books have potential, but they’re like reading a dry college textbook with a little adventure thrown in. There’s almost NO story movement. Talk about aggravating and boring! If this guy was forced to write short chapters, I can only imagine how much better his books would be.
Back to Ashley Bell. Not to say that Dean didn’t get all of his character exposition in there, because he did. He just had to spread it out over five-hundred plus pages. In my opinion, the book could’ve been three hundred-plus pages without losing much, yet there were still a few critiques who complained that the characters were hollow and one-dimensional. Go figure!
At least with the short chapters, the read was a lot more fun and gave the illusion of fast story movement. Maybe that also gave the illusion of one-dimensional characters to those complainers.
I always think of old cowboy character actor Jack Elam. One thing he said always stuck with me. “I hate when they have to have all that crap about why the bad guy is bad. Maybe he just robbed the bank because he wanted the money.”
Get to the poit!
As for Ashely Bell, I can say I enjoyed it a lot more than some of Dean Koontz’ past books. If he keeps up that pattern, I’ll be reading him a lot more!
For many of us genre writers, rambling and exposition isn’t a problem. We tend to get to the point. However, if you’re more of a literary writer but also want to appeal to more of the get-to-the-point crowd, try the short chapter/short scene method. You might attract a wider audience.