Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two Useful Pieces of Advice

Paula shares a couple of useful pieces of advice she found in some comments by professional editors.

The first was R.U.E - ‘Resist the Urge to Explain’ and I must admit it struck a chord with me. It refers (in the main) to those snippets of information we are tempted to add, either to remind the reader of something we (or our characters) have already told them, or to explain why they are angry, upset etc. when the reader can easily assume the reason.

In a sense, the ‘urge to explain’ is author intrusion, and can be likened to an author beating her readers over the head in an effort to make sure they understand or have remembered something. These are times when we need to credit our readers with some basic intelligence, and not spell everything out for them, or over-explain things.

The second piece of advice (from a different editor) was ‘Don’t micro-manage a scene’. This referred to a scene where the author had included all the actions of a character going to the front door of the house when someone knocked. Of course, if there is some emotion attached to opening the door (e.g. fear, anticipation etc), you need to include this, but there is no need to describe how he (or she) stands up, crosses the room, unlocks the door, and/or turns the doorknob. Just get him or her to the door and let them open it! I’ve also heard this kind of action sequence described as ‘a running commentary you might give to a blind person about everything that is happening on the TV screen.’ Again, credit your readers with enough imagination to assume the character’s journey to the door.

Basically, it means don’t overload your work with every action your characters perform. I know some writers say they ‘see’ a scene as if they are watching it in a movie, which is fine – unless they then proceed to describe it in minute detail!

Sometimes I think we are too strung up over the ‘show, don’t tell’ advice i.e. don’t tell how a character is feeling, but show it. As a result, we can end up telling the reader all the actions and movements a character makes, even the minor and irrelevant ones, which can become tedious to a reader.

15 comments:

  1. Um, yeah. Well, hey, at least I provided inspiration for your blog post! :)

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  2. Actually, it was one of my other partners that provided the editorial comments (and inspiration), Jen! And I'm guilty of over-explaining things, and of micro-managing too. I think we all are at times.

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  3. Great examples to help drive home the ever elusive 'show don't tell'. And I do like the idea of giving a reader enough credit to be able to figure out the 'obvious'. As I reader, I know I appreciate it when an author skips over the play by play.

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    1. Agree, Debra. There are some things which need to be skipped over!

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  4. I used to think I had to describe every step a character took. I've let go of that, but I still need to work at describing steps of emotion. When I get to the point where I go overboard on that, someone please tell me.

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    1. Maybe it's rather like an Impressionist picture we're aiming for, rather than a picture with every detail sharply defined.

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    2. I like Impressionist paintings! But that sentence was rubbish with 'rather' twice LOL!

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    3. If I was feeling really inspired, and knew more about Impressionist art (apart simply 'liking' it) I could write a great article comparing art and writing LOL! After all, some books remind me of Picasso (weird) , and others of Rubens (nude figures etc), and ... oh, you get the idea!

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    4. I'd definitely read that. i wish I knew more about art and art history.

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    5. I don't know enough about art to write it. I just know what I like and what I don't like, and I guess the same applies to books.

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  5. I appreciate baseball much more when I am with someone who knows all sorts of details and trivia. I suspect the same could hold true for art--the more you know, the better you can appreciate it.

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