Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dropping Scenes that Work

As I work on my book I’m always tempted to include scenes that I think would be good, or that I want to see in that story, but more often than not, when I actually take the time to read through the book from the beginning, I realize that the readers don’t really care about those things.
That’s happening to me now as I work on The Queen.
I feel this tension between the desire to include stuff that I think would be good, and stuff that is contextually necessary. I find it easy to forget that my goal is to tell a good story, not to impress readers.
If you are a writer, don’t let what you want to happen interfere with what needs to happen to make the story work.
As you write your story, as you build the narrative world at the beginning of the tale remember that every character, every struggle, every significant setting that you introduce is a promise to your reader of the importance of that person, place or conflict to the story.
Eventually readers will care more about you keeping your promises to them, by showing the relevance of all that storytelling. And keeping those promises by giving the reader what he wants is more vital to telling a good story than including witty snippets of dialogue or clever descriptions of characters or fun little scenes that strike a chord.
When I finally finish a novel of 500 pages, I will have at least that many pages written that I cannot use, not because the scenes and dialogue aren’t good, but because they aren’t vital.
And so, here it is, one of the hardest things for me to remember when I am writing: context determines content.
It isn’t so much about what you include, it’s how well it fits and how well it meets reader expectations about where the story needs to go.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Twists that Work

Lately, as always happens when I’m editing one of my novels, I found myself ripping apart my writing on The Queen and coming up with little hints and reminders to help me improve my writing next time around.
I’ve decided to start sharing some of these for aspiring writers, but also for readers, so that they can begin to see the process I go through as I develop my stories.
So, this time it has to do with creating satisfying twists.
While I was editing today, four truths struck me:
1 - The story that precedes the twist must stand on its own and not depend on the twist for its meaning, context or value. A twist has to be the icing on the cake and not the icing on the liver.
2 - A twist is simply something that’s unexpected. If readers see it coming, it’s not a twist, it’s a disappointment. However, it must also flow logically from what precedes it.
3 - Twists drive the story forward as long as they add layers of meaning to the preceding story-line. A twist must cause the reader to rewind the story in their minds and then replay it with the new information that the twist provides, and find that the story is deeper than they ever imagined.
4 - The bigger the twist, the more essential that the story make sense up until that point.
So here is my mini-hint, my reminder to myself: Always twist the story forward.