Friday, October 30, 2009

Micro-Managing Your Story

Recently I've come across more than one book that does something like this:

"I was totally freaked out and I didn't know what to do. I realized I was thirsty so I went downstairs and over to the refrigerator and opened it up. I searched through the food and drinks on the crowded shelves until I found the chocolate milk in the door, where we never keep it, which irritated me. I put the chocolate milk on the counter and then went to the cabinet and pulled out a cup. I poured the chocolate milk in the cup, making sure to put it back where we usually keep it in the refrigerator before sitting down. I drank the milk but it didn't ease my mind so I went back up to my room to think, leaving the cup behind."

I call this Micro-Managing your story. Now Stephanie has already written a fabulous post on self-editing that addresses many of the things that are wrong about this and how to fix it. What I want to talk about is the why.

Aside from inexperience, I think there a couple reasons why this type of over explaining happens. The main one being control issues, which of course come from fear.

It's can be scary to think that someone might interpret your character's actions or behaviors in a way that is different from your intentions and therefore, not like your book because they don't understand what you're trying to say. I get that. I do. Unfortunately, in the art world (and writing is art) you don't get to decide how other people interpret your work. Now you might think that makes it all the more important that you put down everything exactly the way you see it but you would be wrong, and I'll get to the why in a minute.

Reason #2 why this type of verbal diarrhea might spew from your fingers. (Pretty image, huh?) You're a visual thinker. Maybe (like me) you come from the world of film, or you see your scenes play out in your mind like a movie and then write them down. This is something I struggle with daily. Having gone to film school and learned to distill any story into a sequence of images, when writing, I always think in terms of film editing. Like: If I say she was at the refrigerator and then next thing I mention, she's at the table, when did she sit down?? How will anyone know she walked over there? Or: If I say she has a cup in her hand and then she leaves, people will think she still has the cup and they'll wonder what she's doing with it!! And if this was a movie, I would be right. But it's not. And just like I have to accept the idea that people will see what they want in my work, I also have to trust that they will fill in the details when necessary.

So now let me tell you why this type of detail-oriented writing can become a real problem. (Aside from the fact that it's tedious and readers will get bored and frustrated waiting for something to happen.) It's because we are trained to read a certain way. This is easiest to explain using film, so indulge me.

When writing a screenplay, the biggest issue is time. You have 90 minutes to 2 hours to tell your story. On average, one page of a script = one minute of screen time. This makes every single minute gold. Think about that for a moment. You have to choose the best 40-60 scenes to tell your entire story. Even if that story is epic. Which means there's not a lot of time for excess information that does not tie directly to the plot. As filmgoers we've learned to take note of any seemingly innocuous detail and catalog it with the assumption that it's being shown to us for a reason. For example, one of the first "rules" in screenwriting is never show a gun unless someone's going to use it later on.

Now let's look at the example above. The last line ends with "leaving the cup behind". Sounds ominous doesn't it? Like, leaving that cup behind was the straw that broke his neat freak sister's back and after discovering it, she went on a shooting spree, determined to get rid of all the messy people in the world. That would make reading everything that preceded that line worth reading, right? (Well okay, not really, but still.)

But what if nothing happens with that cup? What if the character goes back upstairs and starts playing video games and that cup is never mentioned again? Now your reader is left wondering why they were told about that cup at all. And if you keep doing it, then your reader starts to wonder how they're supposed to read your book, because they can't tell the important stuff from the unimportant. Eventually, if they bother to finish, they will begin dismissing all your details as useless, even the important ones.

Think about every piece of information in your book as having weight. Now, is the fact that your character left his cup on the counter equal to the fact that there's a portal to hell in his bedroom closet? Do they weigh the same? Do they both deserve the same amount of space in your chapter? Remember, space is gold. Readers want to know what happens next in the plot, not in the day. Use your valuable space to tell your story, not the stuff that happens in between plot points.

Lastly, if you're using this type of over-writing to pad your manuscript, stop right there. If you don't have enough plot to fill out 60,000 words, you don't have enough to write a book. It's time to think about subplots and character development, not excessive attention to useless detail. Either that, or you have a movie!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waiting On Wednesday 6

WOW is hosted by Breaking The Spine. This week's choice is:

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - release date December 1, 2009

There were no surprises in Gatlin County
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Description from

Watch The Trailer!

Beautiful Creatures is Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl's debut YA novel. I've been dying to get my hands on this book forever! The trailer just makes me want it even more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Win a 4 ARC bundle from Princess Bookie!

Cindy at Princess Bookie is giving away four awesome ARCs!

One winner will win:
The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Voices Of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Enter here

I'm seriously dying to get my hands on Bleeding Violet and The Dark Divine!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Haiku For You

YA Highway has a cool post today where they take their WIPs and create haiku poems about them. I love haiku, so I thought I'd give it a try. Not my best work but hey, they are about works in progress!

Current WIP

awkward shyness wakes
to newfound strength, speed and skills
must learn why or die

NaNo Project

at the end of life
he finds a reason to live
save her from herself

Waiting on Wednesday 5

WOW is hosted by Breaking The Spine. This week's choice is:

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain - release date December 22, 2009

A prodigal son

A dangerous love

A deadly secret . . .

I stood back and watched his movements. Daniel had that way about him that could shut me down in an instant. . . . I kicked the gravel a couple of times and worked up my courage again. “Tell me . . . I mean . . . why did you come back? Why now, after all this time?”

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared—the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in blood. But she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night really held. And when Daniel returns three years later, Grace can no longer deny her attraction to him, despite promising Jude she’ll stay away.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, her actions stir the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind Jude and Daniel's dark secret . . . and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it—her soul.

Description from

The Dark Divine is Bree Despain's debut YA novel. I've had this on my wishlist forever but once she posted the first chapter on her website I was hooked! I CANNOT wait to read this book.

Monday, October 19, 2009

NaNo Playlist

I spent some time this weekend making notes on the book I'm going to write for NaNoWriMo next month. It's my first time doing NaNo and I'm pretty excited. I've had this idea floating around in my brain for a while. It's a YA (of course) ghost story/paranormal romance called Whisper. I always make playlists for my writing projects so I thought I'd share this one.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

They didn't have a couple of the songs I'm using, including Stay by Lillix, which sucked, but oh well, you get the idea.

I'm looking for writing buddies for NaNo! If you want to be buddies, I'm valeriekwrites over there!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In My Mailbox - 3

I'm back! Finally posting on my blog after a little writing hiatus. This was a very cool week, I got my James Patterson prize pack in the mail! In My Mailbox comes from Kristi at The Story Siren.

WON (all by James Patterson)
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment
School's Out - Forever!
Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
The Final Warning
Maximum Ride Manga
The Dangerous Days of Daniel X
Daniel X: Watch the Skies
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