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MAKING THE STORY MOVE

June 20, 2018

To continue in the same thread as my recent articles Description – When Do You Zone Out and Rambling On And On, I’ve been editing a novel for a friend. During our discussions on the philosophy and how to approach her writing, the subject of description and moving the plot came about. She voiced her opinion of both over-describing and moving the plot along. They echoed what I’ve been talking about all along.

I just happened to finish a science fiction novel that’s been languishing in my book pile for over a year. My daughter gave it to me. It was the hand me down of a hand me down. I’ve been avoiding it for a long time because frankly, so much science fiction I’ve tried to read has fallen into the literary category, just like fantasy. While I have in the past and still do write in both genres, I like to get to the point.

BROWSING THE SHELVES

To this day, I still browse the shelves of the fantasy/syfy section at the bookstore, but usually end up in the general fiction section.

Why?

Part of the problem is subject matter.

SUBJECT MATTER

When it comes to syfy (and I know some of you don’t like the acronym, but for simplicity and word count, I’m going to use it here), when I read the back blurb and are hit immediately with unpronounceable words, my eyes start to glaze over. In a way, I’m being a hypocrite when the title of my first fantasy novel has the word Umbrunna in it. On the other hand, my book blurb doesn’t have a bunch of other unpronounceable words.

Or…

The blurb has some candyrock psychedelic profundity (thanks Frank Zappa) description that you have to read two…three times, just to comprehend. That’s not only hard for grabbing new readers, but bad marketing, unless you’re a total science geek, I suppose? Since I’m not deep into the genre in that regard, I just don’t get some of the catch phrases.

The same holds true for fantasy, except the blurb might be even a bit more wordy, to go along with the thousand page tome.

Ding ding ding ding!

THE PAGES

This is the meat of the matter, a cliché if I’ve ever heard one, and yes I used it and I don’t care. It goes right along with tropes and if you look at the shelves in the fantasy/syfy area, you’ll see just as many tropes as clichés.

Now, the meat…the pages. The big red flags that turn me right back to the general fiction.

As fantastic as the artwork can be, given a back blurb that’s actually intriguing, I open it up and it meets my first qualification of third-person, past-tense, what next?

I see solid words, page after page, with no empty space.

What does that tell me?

This author likes to ramble. He or she likes to describe everything and apparently, either doesn’t like much dialogue, or relies on a lot of dialogue…long passages of dialogue to replace the rambling narrative.

So, we have either/or.

If I don’t see plenty of empty space on the pages, I put the book right back down and move on.

No empty space means there are no breathers and that means the story drags. The author doesn’t know brevity.

THE KEY IS, DOES THE STORY MOVE?

My wife reads nothing but fantasy. Though she never does reviews, she lets me know when she thinks a book sucks, or if she loves it. While she doesn’t so much care about point of view like I do, she echoes a lot of my sentiments when the author rambles, or doesn’t use point of view correctly. She gets very frustrated at rambling. While she reads a lot on Nook, I’ve looked up the paper versions of some of those books she hated in the store and leafed through them. Sure enough, she proved my point, exactly, from what I’ve been saying above.

GOT’TA REMEMBER

The whole point of this is to remember that as ancient as I am, I was a reader a loooong time before I was ever a writer. I’m still a reader. As a writer, I’ve tried to learn what works best. While some readers are a lot more tolerant to various styles, I’ve come to the conclusion long ago that I just don’t have the time or inclination to mess around with the bullshit anymore.

I want to read books that get to the point the easiest and most efficient way possible.

I want my readers to have that same experience as well.

I don’t want to punish my readers with experiments of whimsy based on where my “muse” is taking me stylistically. I’m saving that for my plots.

I’ll leave the hard to read books for those looking for a challenge, or for those that actually prefer that style, as some do.

I really believe the vast majority of people would rather get to the point like I do, and sit down and have a pleasurable reading experience that can be complex and fun, yet get to the point without a bunch of barriers and high concepts that leave them confused and scratching their heads. It’s perfectly fine to throw in a bit of high concept and thought-provoking ideas, but don’t beat them over the head with it. Don’t bog down the story with minutiae and endless exposition. Keep it in small doses and let the action move things along.

You can smell the roses, give high concepts and throw out a few complicated names without clubbing them over the head.

Happy writing!

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