Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeping the Author Invisible

First news: I received an email from the publisher for Where Danger Hides letting me know it'll be released a month early. So look for it in May of 2011, not June. This right after I got an email from my editor saying:

The novel is extremely clean and one of the most enjoyable edits I've had in a long time! Thank you for writing such a great novel, Terry!:-) I'll be in touch by the end of the week with the edits.

Quick personal customer service rant – on Monday, we'd spent hours getting our communications package set up. Most of what we ordered is hooked up at the house itself. But we did order 2 new cell phones. The company doesn't have them in stock at their mall outlet, so they ordered them and said they should be in Wednesday. Cutting to the chase, we did get them, but not easily, and not without 3 phone calls, the first two of which gave us incorrect information. But, we have the phones, and we'll deal with switching not only phones but carriers. I imagine it'll be a steep learning curve. After all, the provider offers classes in learning to use the phone. I don't think that would be necessary if it was intuitive.

OK – back to writing.

I wrote the first scene of chapter two, then let it sit overnight. But, as it tends to happen, lying in bed, I realized I had omitted some important tension between the characters. In the scene, the heroine is observing the hero and the way he's interacting with his sick child. My error was that I knew why the hero was behaving the way he was, which influenced what I wrote. But the heroine didn't, and she was superimposing her own interpretations based on her own experiences. I hadn't shown that, even though I was inside her head in the scene. It's important for the author to remember to keep off the page. That was the next day's rewriting.

The points to get across: she and her son had been victims of abuse. When the hero isn't behaving the way she thinks a good father should, when the son seems upset, even frightened, she imagines he's the same kind of man her husband was. What she doesn't know is that the hero has only "inherited" the boy due to the death of his divorced wife a short time ago. He's not abusive, merely inexperienced, and making some mistakes. The son's emotional state isn't due to fear of his father, it's fear of being abandoned.

The advantages: her thoughts can relay some hints of back story. The danger: letting her thoughts stray too long. It's important to remember the situation. She's not taking a leisurely shower, or enjoying a glass of wine by the fireside where she can reflect at leisure. I could have written it that way—finished the scene, and then had a nice, calm, sequel. But that would have stopped the story (unless the fireplace exploded or her wine was poisoned). It's important to choose the back story moments. Let the action unfold, dribble in a thought or two, and then move on.

The reader will wait if you keep them curious.

So, in keeping with my showing, not telling, this is an example.


She hurried to the hall bathroom and dampened a washcloth. When she returned, the retching had stopped, but the boy sobbed. He looked at his father, more fear than misery in his eyes.


She hurried to the hall bathroom and dampened a washcloth. When she returned, the retching had stopped, but the boy sobbed. He looked at his father, more fear than misery in his eyes. As if he was afraid of being punished. The same look she'd seen too often in Will's eyes when he was trying so hard to please Victor. The look that had been the final straw, giving her the nerve to pick up and run.

The revised version takes a little longer, but I think (and feel free to comment!) that it drizzles in the needed emotional reaction, puts the reader in the characters head, but doesn't spend a lot of time dumping information about the details of her past life.

Yesterday, I was talking about showing, not telling, and not over-explaining. In writing a sequel or connected book, the question rises again. How much does the reader need to know about what happened in the last book? Can you weave it in slowly? Or, is this a time when you need to spend a paragraph "bringing the reader up to speed?" I submitted my first chapter to my crit partners, who have read the other books in the series. It's hard to "forget" what you already know. One concern was the mention of Grace and Miri in the very beginning. Both those characters play important roles in Where Danger Hides, but will mentioning their names confuse a reader? Or would stopping to explain help with that, but slow the pace?

There are times when "telling" is the most efficient way to get across some important information. The trick is to make it seem as though it's a logical thing for the character to be thinking at that moment. I find Michael Connelly does this exceptionally well. If you think about it, it's probably not likely that Harry Bosch would really need to think about some of the descriptions and exposition, but the reader is rarely pulled out of the flow long enough to stop to think about it.

Don't forget to come back tomorrow for Jason's "Hanging With Wolves." I'll be at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.


Mason Canyon said...

Congratulations on your editor's comments and the earlier release. Sounds great.

From a reader's viewpoint, the revised version is much better. It gives you that glimpse and hooks you just enough. You realize there's something there and you can't help but want to know more.

Love wolves, so I hope to be back tomorrow to see what Jason has in store.

Thoughts in Progress

Terry Odell said...

Mason - glad we agree that sometime a little more is good, as long as it's not too much.

And yes, be sure to come back tomorrow for Jason's pictures. But never fear - the beauty of blogdom is that you can always come back another day and find a post.

Debra St. John said...

Congrats on your release being moved up. That's good news!

Carol Kilgore said...

Good post. Like you say, keeping the author off the page can sometimes be difficult. Those 1800s omniscient authors had it easy!

Jannine Gallant said...

I liked your example - it gives readers just enough info to keep them interested. Another way I like to work in backstory is through dialogue. Having the character say it instead of the author is usually better. Congrats on your new release!

Karla said...

Have fun at the conference - we'll have to compare notes when they're over!

Terry Stonecrop said...

The revised one was much better without slowing it down at all. Drizzle is the word. Perfect. A downpour would have been too much. Nice work.

Congratulations on your new release.