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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

IWSG - Exit Stage Left



This is my post for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group for the month of August.  We are writers helping writers here folks.  To read more posts, click on this link.



One of the rules of good writing tells us to show characters in logical sequences of action.  If you have someone in a room one moment, they can’t appear on the street in the same scene, unless you use your words to get them there.  I learned this a long time ago.  Good news, bad news.  I know what I’m supposed to do, but my method is flawed.  Last night, in class, I read pages and received direct, actionable feedback from our teacher.  “Stop with the stage direction,” she said.


Once I understood, I met this criticism with relief.  I’ve been so busy whirling my characters around, marching them back, making them look both ways before crossing the street, I’ve been slowing my action down.  I can’t tell you how I’ve searched for other ways to say, “She turned,” or “she stepped” when I didn’t need to say it at all.


Here’s are two examples, directly from my work.  In paragraph A, you’ll find the original pokey, bla, bla, bla version.  In paragraph B, a revision.


A)     Spinning around, she glanced toward the empty doorway to the market. Waiting for two cars to pass, she crossed the street and headed toward Waban Avenue, where the historical society stood, on the far side of the library, three doors down from the corner.”



B)      “She crossed the street and headed toward Waban Avenue.  The historical society stood on the far side of the library.  Three doors down from the corner.”



A)     “Turning, she ran from the room, ignoring the greeting offered by a black-haired woman now manning the front desk.  Pushing at the heavy door, she vaulted down the steps oblivious to the stares of a white haired man gripping the wrought iron railing as he climbed his way up.  Crossing the sidewalk, she leaned on the trunk of a maple tree, holding her pounding temples.  Uneven tree bark dug into her back.  Fighting to slow her breathing, she examined the cracks in the sidewalk in front of her.  “Keep to the program,” her therapist advised when she described how panic threatened to swamp her.  “Try not to give into it.” 



B)      “Marnie bolted.  Vaulting down the steps, she leaned on the trunk of a maple.  Fighting to slow her breathing, she examined the cracks in the sidewalk.  “Keep to the program,” her therapist advised when she described how panic threatened to swamp her.  ‘Try not to give into it.’" 


In both cases, I think you'll agree once I eliminated the “move to the right" detail, things move much faster. 
 
As writers, it’s up to us to decide on and control the pace. Sometimes, we may want to slow down our action, say, to increase the suspense.  In such cases, details may help.    But, if like me, you are tempted to show your movement, step by excruciating step, learn from my mistakes.  Unless you want to write in slow motion.

14 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

I'm going through this exercise right now. The things I'm working on are so overwritten I can't stand myself.

I'll email you the reasons why.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now I want to go through my latest manuscript and see if I'm not doing the same.
And you did really well for almost missing the IWSG! This is good stuff.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

It looks like that class is reeeeeally helpful to you, because your revisions make a huge difference. Great post! (Helpful, too.)

Suzanne said...

I can see how the B's read much better than the A's - but I did like 'spinning around, she glanced toward the empty doorway to the market'. I could just imagine it so clearly :)
Suzanne @ Suzannes-Tribe

Bish Denham said...

You did MUCH better with your rewrites. I have some other thoughts which I'll email you.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm working on that in my writing too. So glad I stopped by today.

Robin said...

Wow. I think I am guilty of this, too. Very helpful stuff, Liza.

Emma Adams said...

Great advice. I tend to do the opposite and under-describe, so readers get confused about how my characters ended up moving from one place to another! So when I'm revising, I have to add in more words for clarity and slow the pacing down. Having critiques helps! :)

kimlajevardi.com said...

Great advice! I think we all need to learn, and then probably re-learn, to get let the story flow and get out of the way.

Kim Lajevardi
(This Writer's Growing)

mshatch said...

I do that, too. It's hard to find the right balance between telling too much and not enough. You don't want your readers saying, huh? How did they get there? But you also don't want them groaning under detail. I like the way you revised :)

Jan Morrison said...

YES!!! That's exactly what I do. And I always remember this local film that was in the film festival about twenty years ago - it had people going to - oh I don't know - Graceland I think - and they had a plane scene so you'd know how they got there! Gah! So dopey. Who cares? It had nothing to do with the story and the film-maker had to make an airplane set. Jeez! The first draft is like a teenager coming home from a movie and telling you the whole plot in excruciating detail. It is the story we tell ourselves. We want to know just where everything is! So funny - thanks for the reminder.

J.B. Chicoine said...

As you mention, sometimes slow is good for effect, but when it tempts your reader to skim, no good. I still struggle with this concept--I like the description "stage direction." So many actions are already implied and understood by our reader. Just need to keep reminding myself of that ...

Carol Kilgore said...

Good job! This is an important lesson to learn. Congrats.

Debra McKellan said...

I'm a big offender of this one, too. lol I just feel like, how will they know that they're over there now? lol