Friday, June 25, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Dam the Babbling Brook

And I meant that quite literally, as in a structure that holds back water.

I had no time to give you a short update on Monday, so I'll simply say that Chapter 11 is underway and looking good. I'll have it done before June is out. Also, I'm attending a writing workshop hosted by Orson Scott Card next week, so don't expect an update post. I'll be too busy learning from the master. I'm really excited for it, and to finally meet him in person. He impressed me to write, by the way.

As for the Advice:
What did I mean by a babbling brook?

Something that beginning writers tend to do is go overboard with the dialogue. I know I did. Maybe they're some of you out there who are gifted masters of giving characters their voice, but it took some trial and error for me to get it right. And if you are a discovery writer (one who doesn't plan the story, but writes and lets the story flow with your whims) this becomes more apparent. Why? The characters are figuring out the story just as you are, and through talking, they may say too much or roam into tangent territory, speaking of things that are irrelevant to the story at hand or offer details that will have nothing to do with resolving the plot or build your characters personality. Why is this a problem? The reader may get lost or confused, and may feel betrayed having to remember details that didn't matter. If you find your characters speaking large paragraphs to each other through most of your book, you might be a babbling brook. Building a dam requires a plan. This applies to stories, too.

"Less is more:" this can't be stressed enough. The next time you're involved in a conversation, pay attention to how much people say, their brevity, their length, and so on. Do people generally speak in monologue? Not that I've noticed. When people do, I find myself, unintentionally, zoning out, meaning, I've lost interest in what is being discussed because the speaker has strayed from the topic at hand. The same will happen when reading a conversation. Generally, long speeches are necessary for segments of exposition (when a lot is explained and readers find the answers they want), but everyday interactions with other people tend to be short; one to two line paragraphs. Here's an example.

"Hey!" Billy shouted to Jen. "Where are you going?"
"To the mall. Wanna come?"
"Uh--maybe I shouldn't," Billy hesitated. What point did he have in going to the mall? He had no money and the mall was on the other side of town. Then again, this was an opportunity to spend time with Jen, something that his mother told him to never do. "I can't buy anything if I came with you."
Jen laughed. "Window shopping doesn't cost anything," she said, reaching for Billy's hand. "Come on!"

I came up with that on the top of my head, so I'll ask you if this sounds interesting or not. I think it does. Did I reveal too much? Did the characters say enough to keep the story moving along? Now, what if it read like this.

"Hey Jen!" Billy shouted. "Stop. Where are you going in such a hurry?"
"I'm going to the mall to do some window shopping. Would you like to come with me?"
"Uh--maybe I shouldn't," Billy said. "It's on the other side of town and I don't have any money to spend, and my mom thinks I shouldn't hang out with you. I don't know why. She thinks you're some kind of witch or something, but why would she say that? It doesn't make any sense. I'd like to hang out with you, though. I just don't know what will happen if my mom finds out."
Jen laughed, reaching for Billy's hand. "Come with me anyway. We'll have fun. Trust me!"

Now, I'd rather read a book using that first passage because the dialogue is short and interesting and the narrative reveals only enough to keep me interested. Water in a brook flows, and if it's noisy, it babbles. You want your story to flow without excess noise. Next time you write, remember to dam your babbling brook and let the water (story) flow.

Thanks for clicking!

I'm David, and I'm going to watch Toys that talk!

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