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Voice in Storytelling: a discussion of point of view
and verb tense and how these elements affect the story
elements and art of dialog
Novel Openings: Creating compelling openings for novels
Description: The red meat of storytelling.
Flashbacks: Hey, who's in here with me? This is my flashback
Freelance Pitfalls: Editors beware of disturbed writers; Writers beware of editors with an attitude
in the West
Writers often assume actions are
evident to readers—or
they provide too much detail
a visual joke. I like to play it on people I'm talking to in normal
conversation. Suddenly, I take the stance of an old west gunfighter,
hands positioned on either side of my hips, twitching as if they're
about to draw a six shooter, and I say, "You wanna see the fastest gun
in the west?" My friend will probably nod or say, "yes." At that point,
I do nothing. Then I ask, "You wanna see it again?"
The point is, this
visual joke, and the surprise is that the "fastest gun in the west" is
so fast that the other person doesn't even see it. But, how does this
relate to writing? Many novice writers don't take the time to show
certain actions and assume that the reader will fill in the action for
themselves. This is a mistake and is an annoying lack of detail that
will tug at the reader's credulity.
Here is a recent
example from a book I was editing, which involves the fastest cell
phone in the west...
a rare gesture, he wrapped arms around me and held me. He smelled so
good, like the forest after it rained, and I suddenly felt safe again.
“I miss her, too, man,” he said.
A muffled song snippet from his pants’ pocket shattered the moment.
“Hey, babe,” he responded. It had to be Christie. After a brief
conversation, his eyes grew large and bright. “That’s awesome!” When he
looked over at me, some of that light faded. “I’ll tell him, honey. See
As is evident, and
annoying, while the cell phone ringing in his pants' pocket is nicely
detailed, instead of showing the reader that the character retrieves
the phone from his pocket, we simply get, "Hey, babe," he responded. I
teased the writer and said that readers would have a difficult time
imagining the character bending over and pasting his ear against his
pants' pocket. Of course, the character could have been wearing a
voice-activated earpiece, but we'd need to know that, too.
Of course, writers should decide which actions are necessary to show
and which are so easily ingrained in readers that adding detail is
unnecessary. The exact opposite of the "fastest gun in the west"
problem is giving too much detail to ordinary, everyday actions.
She nodded her head. Hmmm...what else is she going to nod? We can
simply write: she nodded.
She nodded yes. We only nod when we mean "yes." We shake our heads when
we mean "no." Unfortunately, it is true...some writers don't know these
simple gestures. I get, "She shook her head yes."
He reached out his hand to grab the gun. Yes, that would be the
appropriate appendage for that action. We could simply write, he
grabbed the gun. If necessary, we might have to say with which hand.
The character might be holding a sword in the other.
"You wanna see the second
fasterst gun in the west?" You'll have to contact me
for the answer.