19 February 2007

When the Writing Gets in the Way

I appreciate that not everyone writes to be read. Writers who say they write for themselves may or may not mean that the writer does not care about the reader, but that the reader does not dictate the story, the writer does.

For writers who want to be read by the mainstream reading public (whoever that is), don't let words get in the way of meaning.

A writer recounts an exciting, well-thought out Dramatic Action plotline (he has entirely ignored the Character Development plotline for now and whatever deeper meaning the story has is yet untapped). I do not read the words. I listen for the structure and plot. I have no idea of the writer's writing, not even the story's true point-of-view. Today, during the story recounting, the writer's words got in the way of a truly exciting Climax.

Too florid, they clouded comprehension. Granted, he was reading summaries of scenes, but still, his "voice" seemed stilted and the words themselves demanded individual attention.

The actual Dramatic Action propels my mind to the next exciting moment. Skipping over complex details, I wait impatiently for the next scene. His tongue trips over the words. In the end, I am left wondering, huh?

I knew the writer knew; I had learned to trust him partway through The Middle. But besides rich and poetic words, he sprinkled his story with complext names. Without any Character Emotional Develpment with which to fix the characters by name, I had little to ground me. At the Climax, I found I had no idea of the villian slayed. The crowning glory of the story left in confusion.

Moral of the story with your reader in mind:
1.) Strive for meaning on the word, scene, and overall story level. Write the scenes moment-by-moment as clearly as possible as an invitation to the reader to sink deeper.
2.) Develop the character's inner world as carefully as the outer one.
3.) Help the reader remember who goes with which name.

11 February 2007

Characters Consistency is Paramount

Partway through a two-hour plot consultation, the writer I was working with related a scene in which the protagonist does something entirely out of character. The protagonist of this young adult novel steals pot from her father's illegal pot growing shed.

"Whoa!" I cried. "Where does this come from? You've set up the story so that the protagonist does not respect her father because of his pot growing, right?"

"She's not going to smoke any. She wants to get back at her dad."

"She's going to take enough so he'll know?"

"No, just a bud or so."

"How is that getting back at her father?"

"Well, maybe it's not, but she needs to have the pot for later in the story."

"Ah, ha!"

What this writer has done is not an uncommon mistake. Writers, in their zeal for the dramatic action plot, lose sight of the character development plot.

Character is the story. Thus, character consistency is paramount. This writer knew that. But because the plot demanded that the protagonist get busted for the illegal pot, she had justified the action to herself. The process of having to jusify it to me made her realize the problem.

When the writer saw the error of her ways, she also realized the act was actually a flaw in the dramatic action plot as well and immediately found the answer that had been sitting there all along. The protagonist's sidekick was the one who takes it. As we proceeded in the consultation, the logic of this revealed itself more and more throughout the story.