Happy New Year all. I trust your prayerful writing plans for 2012—including attendance at at least one writer’s conference—are in high gear.
If so, good! Keep them that way.
For the first blog of the new year I’m going to start out with a complaint from Yvette, a Facebook friend of mine. Yvette is a reader of fiction and the other day she posted on my wall:
I’ve been reading some wonderful fiction lately published by small presses. The stories and especially the characters are riveting. There’s one problem. The foreshadowing is heavy-handed. Even if it’s a mere fleeting hint, it’s about as subtle as a bulldozer. I’m not a fiction writer, but I would like fiction writers to know that we readers are not idiots and we would appreciate more finesse when it comes to preparing us for what is yet to come. I can’t say what appropriate foreshadowing looks like. All I know is that what I’ve been reading isn’t it.
I agree with Yvette. One of the mistakes I often see in manuscripts is the tendency to overwrite. At its worst, this comes across as “telling” and telling too much. One of my artist friends once told me that a good artist knows that what he leaves out of a painting is as important as what he puts in.
That’s true of fiction too.
For your first draft of a novel, sure, throw it all in. Kitchen sink included. But one of the many tasks you’ll perform in your several subsequent drafts is the elimination of unnecessary information. Some of it may be simply repetitious or irrelevant to the story, but some of it may also be because you think if you don’t include the information, the reader won’t get it. If, through subtlety and good writing you’ve done your job, the writer will get it. Trust your reader. Learn to write with more nuance. A little foreshadowing goes a long way. Learn to know what to leave out. Park the bulldozer and throw away the keys!
I wonder if this problem of overwriting is also why conversion scenes are so hard to write? They can easily come across as cheesy if not done properly. I’d love to hear some examples of conversion scenes in fiction that you think worked well. To be honest, I’d almost trust a non-believing writer more with a conversion scene than a believing one.
Again, the key is in the ability to write an almost nuanced scene rich with poignancy and meaning.
Here’s an exercise that might help you learn to write with nuance. I want you to write an eight-line love poem without using the word “love.” It’s not easy….and yet the meaning is all richer for doing it well.
That’s true in fiction too.
(If today’s blog has been helpful, spread the word. Send the link to a writing friend).