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Archive for December, 2011

So, you have a great idea for a story or novel. You ponder where and how to start. You decide to start on the morning after Matilda’s break up with Dilbert. It’s the first day of the rest of her life without Dilbert. So, you begin writing.

The alarm clock startles Matilda into wakefulness and she opens her groggy, swollen eyes and brushes her matted blond hair from her chubby cheek. She throws the covers back and slips her chunky tootsies into her puppy dog slippers, the ones he gave her three months ago on her thirstiest birthday. As she stumbles toward the bathroom, she catches her reflection in the mirror Dilbert had fastened to her closet door only a few days ago. She notices her sagging breasts, paunchy stomach, thunder thighs and her foggy pale blue eyes not to mention her unruly hair. “No wonder he told me to stuff it,” she thought. “I have put on a few pounds this past year.”

She continues to the bathroom cluttered with discarded clothing and used towels and flops down on the commode, wondering what’s going to become of her. How is she going to make it through the day? She contemplates going back to bed. She pulls herself up and leans against the sink trying hard not to look in the mirror. She nearly gags as she brushes her teeth using her favorite toothpaste, rinses her mouth with mint flavored mouthwash for two minutes as recommended, spits it out and runs the water. She continues dressing, preparing and eating breakfast, down to brushing bread crumbs from her lap. Then comes rhe scene of her getting in the car, backing out of her drive and cruising down the Boulevard to work noticing everything along the way.

Five pages later she finally gets to work fifteen minutes late. If you haven’t lost your reader yet, the next fifteen pages of back story will surly do the trick. Of course, you realize this is too much information and your reader still doesn’t know what’s going on other than lover boy kicked her to the curb possibly because she had let herself go to pot.

1. Begin at the beginning

Where does one start? Well, at the beginning, silly. To begin with, the above beginning is not the proper place to begin this story. Remember, a story should start at a moment of change in the life of the main character which, in this story, was the night before when lover boy Dilbert, told her to stuff it. This is slap in the middle of their heated argument where she is scratching his eyes out and spitting in his face. Or, maybe she fell into a state of shock and couldn’t utter a word and you have to describe everything that’s going on in her head while Dilbert rants on about every wrong aspect of their relationship leaving out all the good parts. The above beginning requires back-story right off and back-story of more than a sentence or two slows down a story.

2. Too much detail

What else is wrong with the above beginning? It gives a second by second account of everything Matilda is doing. You may want to do this if you are trying to show a scene going in slow motion. Don’t let this laps into more dreary details. Put it down and get on to the next part where Matilda meets handsome man, Bruce, at a party that night where she is well on her way to getting wasted.

Unless something is germane to the story, leave it out. If Matilda is unkempt and a sloppy housekeeper and it plays a big part in the story, you might want to show this. But, if you are just showing how she got to the bathroom, all this does is bog down the story.

I often catch myself falling into this trap. Over-description drags a story to a sluggish halt and ticks off the reader. Everyone knows how to brush their teeth and do their grooming in the morning or frying eggs that only reminds her of her tear soaked eyes. Need I say more?

Names often give the reader all he/she needs to know about a character’s description or traits. There’s no need describing your characters down the mole on her big toe. Leave something to the reader’s imagination. What do the names Billy-Bob bring to mind or Slim, or Hoss, or Mervin, or Olivia, or Pricilla? We tend to pin preconceived images to characters simply by knowing their names, which makes it important to give your characters a name befitting them. A few uttered words of dialogue reveals more about a character than a page and a half of babble, e.g., what part of the world they come from, whether or not they are educated, angry, sad, happy and on and on. Try not to insult your readers’ intelligence. They have probably read more books the last month than most authors have written in their lifetimes.

3. Clichés

The whole morning routine scene above is a tired cliché, as is a character looking into a mirror or any other reflective surface and describing her physical self. If you feel obligated to describe a character, try it in another fashion like her becoming disgusted because she no longer fits into her jeans. Then again, what is a cliché? I’ve looked at list after list of them. There are even books full of them. If you took all of them out of your work, you might end up with a See-Jane-Run book. However, some are more tired than others are. You’ll have to decide this for yourself. Look it up. Try using fresh ways to get across what you are attempting to say.

4. Watch those phone conversations.

Matilda heard the phone ring. She was clear across the room and had to navigate around the coffee table to get to her pink phone sitting on the dusty end table. She managed to pick it up on the forth ring. “Oh please let it be Dilbert,” she prayed. “Please, please, please, I’ll beg him to forgive me, even though I’ve done nothing wrong.

“Hello, this is Matilda. . .. Oh, hi Ruth. I was hoping it would be Dilbert.”

“Are you, really?”

“No. I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be good company tonight.”

“It’s just that Dilbert and I have broken up.” She goes into a long rendition of the whole breakup. Hangs up the phone and wonders back to flop down on the couch. Wow that hurt just typing it.

You could have put it in one sentence. Ruth called to invite her to a party, but she begged off.

Are you still with me? I’m worn out. I just wanted to make sure you got the point about putting in too much information and bogging down a scene. Until the next time when I have more to write, I’ll let you know and you can read it. So long, goodbye, see you around. 🙂 have a pleasant day,

Ray

 

 

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