Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fine Line

There’s a fine line between telling your readers too much and not enough, and your publisher won’t ask you to pick a side; he’ll tell you to tightrope the thing over Niagara Falls and back.

So how do you, you know, do this impossible task?

Well, you need to take a good hard look at the scene you're writing and ask yourself: If the vein is pulsating visibly in Jack Rager’s head…do I reallyneed to say he’s angry, too? Can’t they see that? Haven’t I shown them enough?? He just punched a mirror for goodness sake! He has shards of glass poking out of his knuckles!—Get the point?

The best way to assure that you’re not explaining too much and your readers can still understand the scene is to describe the physical details vividly. Yes, add some key commentary into the scene, don’t lose your protagonist’s viewpoint, but show, show, show!

If Rager’s pulsing veins and bloody fist aren’t enough, then nothing will satisfy the reader.

Most importantly, remember not to underestimate your reader. Our brains naturally fill in details between the lines. If you tell them Jack Rager was leaving footprints in the dust of the foyer of the abandoned house of St. Holy Lane, then they’ll already be creating the rest of the picture for you. They’ll see the dead rat in the corner, the eerie moonlight exposing a broken chair by the wall and the scratches disappearing beneath the basement door.

Read back through some of your favorite books and see how much detail they provided and compare that with what you were imagining. It’s quite different, you’ll find, and it’s the reason why when we watch the movie interpretations of these same books, we don’t always understand the director’s choice in sets. “Where’s the broken chair?” we ask. “And there shouldn’t be a hallway there; that’s where the hairless cat painting hung!”

In the end, if there’s something we should’ve said or said too much about, it’ll be someone else that catches it. After all, we knew all along that the reason why Jack hated everybody and everything to do with art was because his mother never liked the finger paintings he brought home from preschool, but sometimes we forget that the reader doesn’t also know this, too, and that’s okay.

Leave it to your trusted first reader to pick out these things. By all means, be as proactive as possible. Make checklists and charts and sticky-note reminders, but make sure you let someone else (preferably someone with a background in writing) read it before you waste your time and money on stamps and SASEs.

You can’t catch everything, but two heads are, most certainly, still better than one.

Photo from

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our So-Called Social Life

“Thank God for social networking,” a writer friend said to me recently. “That’s about all the social life I can handle!”

I’m sure your first thoughts were like mine…Oh how sad…Social networking doesn’t really count…SO GLAD I’m not like that…

But if you’re in the midst of writing a new book, as I am, then chances are that you are “like that”. At least for the time being.

To others, it may seem like you’re sacrificing your relationships for a dark room and a laptop. But those of us that write know that that’s not true at all—sometimes we like to write in bright rooms, too!

And even then, we may be spending less time with friends and family, but it’s for their own good!

Imagine, you’ve just stopped in the middle of a chapter—just as your juices were really starting to flow, too!—because Michael and Sally wanted to grab lunch and catch up. This is a hypothetical situation that won’t end well for anyone involved.

You, as the author, will invariably have your mind off in your book, with your characters, in their current predicament, trying not to lose the emotion of the scene or forget to add in that detail you just thought of and—does anyone have a pen? What? No, I just need to make a note on my napkin…What were you saying?

As for Michael and Sally, well, they’ll be having lunchtime conversation with only half of your conscious mind. It’s just not fair to you or them.

Don’t completely shun everyone and lock yourself away until you’re work’s complete—seriously, don’t—but a few lunch dates will have to be surrendered.

True friends and family will still be there at the completion of you book or project, I promise! But for now, thank God for social networking!

Photo from

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Morning After

Some days we get on a roll, and not the good kind. We put down new scene and dialogue and plot twists and catch phrases and, before we know it, we’ve lost sight of our original story altogether.

Now, I’m not suggesting that your initial vision for your book should or will be exactly what you end up with. Because it shouldn’t and it won’t.

I’m talking about the days when your story starts to head in an entirely different direction, which is completely perfect and just what you’ve always dreamed it would be, until the next morning. And, unfortunately, there’s no morning after pill for a night of bad writing.

So what are you left with? A bright, beaming bundle of “who the heck authored this??” And the worst part? You start getting attached to it. You even kind of love parts of it!

It’s not that you want to keep it. You don’t. But you’ve already put so much time into it and it would really be a shame to erase it entirely. And you know what? I agree.

Something led you to make these changes, to deviate from your original plan. Don’t just ignore them—dissect them! Figure out what prompted you to move away from that plan. How well or not-so-well do these changes fit in with the rest of your book? Which ones have to go? Which ones can still be incorporated?

You’ll never get past your mistakes unless you try to learn from them. Go back and work with this section. Cut and add things until it’s cohesive with the writing so far and consistent with the plot to come.

You can’t discount a single day of work, not when they’re all worth something.