Tighter Ways of Storytelling

January 7, 2013

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Here’s the big secret:  It’s about writing in scene, and not telling the reader things so that they know what your story is going to be about.

That’s all there is to it.

But saying that means nothing unless you see what I mean: much like your story – it needs to seen, not told to your reader.

Some novices write their first drafts and feel pretty good about them, and then some feedback comes in suggesting they tightening the writing. And  so the novice asks questions, and rightfully, about what they thought was stuff put in for all the right reasons: to inform the reader.

They ask:

“Why are the lines you highlighted bad? Maybe I’m not getting this, are you saying that the description shouldn’t be there?”

“Isn’t describing surroundings important?  “The bit about the light indicates the time of day, doesn’t the reader need this?”

“Shouldn’t I try describing what my character is seeing after opening his eyes? I tried to do that by describing the guard’s appearance.”

“I’m also not sure why I shouldn’t explain how people are moving. I mean, I’m not describing every little motion,  I thought I was doing that well, there.”

“Why I shouldn’t inform the reader? I don’t know another way to give the information without coming out and saying it.”

All these concerns are valid. We need to ask questions like these to understand feedback, we can’t just hear critiques and try to change things without knowing why we are doing so.

Some of us want to begin our stories by telling you stuff up front. About weather, or time, settings, or persons you are about to meet.  Why? Because you thought you were doing things right.

Those openings can come across a bit slow. The first line shows some important action, which is great because your instincts said to go with a scene right from the start. But, then the next paragraph moves into

  • A  description of a character, 27 words
  • A 2nd small bit of action, but it’s not really tied to that in scene action you began with., 13 words
  • A slip into narration to explain something about the dilemma he’s facing, 60 words
  • Followed by another bit of narration taking us away from the scene and into another length of explaining how someone is – so the reader knows why they are acting that way, 47 words

Because sometimes the only feeling coming across to the reader who’s critiquing your work is noticing that great first action line, that in scene beginning, is interrupted by nearly 150 words that aren’t ‘in scene’.

Most of what the first draft can have is too much heart and soul in explaining: a first draft written to expand the knowledge of the reader. For the reader, not to forward your scene or story.

So the goal is to tighten all that so it can be used in a better way than explaining, or even informing the reader. Use your words to tell the story in scene. Currently you may be falling into exposition. Look at ways to take that exposition, and with as little explaining, informing, or feeding the reader story-facts, rewrite it for ‘in scene’ writing.

Leave all the telling us and move into giving us scenes where things happen, and scenes where the reader can watch things unfold. No informing, just showing scenes with your characters in action.

You may even need to move some of that first draft info from where it is now, and use it later, in a different order, or even consider removing it entirely.

Because sometimes the only feeling coming across to the reader who’s critiquing your work is noticing that great first action line, that in scene beginning, is interrupted by nearly 150 words that aren’t ‘in scene’.

Maybe they recognized a level of info dumps or reader-feeder, rather than seeing a in scene story, well told, from the first word.

Some writers begin slowly.  They write in info dumps, in explaining, in informing. It has to begin this way for them to have something to work with. The thing to realize is that your first instinct – to being in scene, need to be held to.

It can be done, and has been done well. The tricky part is to open scene, then find any other bits of that continue that scene and bring it up closer to the opening line. Sure you can begin with slowness. But do that on purpose, not because you didn’t realize you had started that way.

Look at your first full paragraph of narration. Can you explain to yourself why it’s written the way it is?

Breaking your work down into instances of:
Narration that looks to be explaining or informing.
Descriptions of Characters to tell the reader something.
Settings for the same reason – telling the reader.
Dialogue that is a given to the charcter’s profile, but not his actions in the sece: “No sixteen year-old kid who’s the oldet of four should be thinking that way about his estranged mother.

That’s the big secret: Writing in scene. Not telling the reader things so that they know what your story is going to be about.

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7 Responses to “Tighter Ways of Storytelling”

  1. La fille de la mer Says:

    Thank you so much as always. Your insights are most welcome and help me put words to what I read or write. I really appreciate your dedication in helping wannabe writers like me. Thanks again

    • ejrunyon Says:

      Thanks for the feedback, it’s great to know this helps. Be sure to tell your writer friends, or post on the NaNo threads that you like this bolg’s help topics.

      Soon, about mid-year I’ll have a book out with more ways to better writing, it’ called “Tel Me (How to Write) A Story: good advice for novices eager to write better fiction”.
      I’ll let you know when it’s published.

  2. Karlie Says:

    Do you ever critique other people’s writing? If you would, and have the time, I would be interested. Just this post helped me tremendously. I can’t pay anything so feel free to say no.

    • ejrunyon Says:

      Are you a NaNo participant, I do charge for coaching and editing, but for NaNo’ers it’s only a dollar a page.
      What is it you’re looking for? a lot to look at? or paragraph?
      ej

  3. Karlie Says:

    Yes, I do participate in NaNo, but this particular novel is not a NaNo novel. Does the dollar rate still apply? If so, how would I pay you? PayPal?
    And If you would just do my first three or four chapters, that would be great.

    • ejrunyon Says:

      A NaNo’er is a Nano’er. 🙂

      And yes, paypal is preferred, but other arrangements can be made.
      Email me at my name: ejrunyon (no spaces), at Yahoo, so we can see what you need, and how I might help.
      ej

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