Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Day 227 of the 365 Days of Blogging

The author, Dane F. Baylis


As Doctor McCoy, on the old STAR TREK TV series, might have said, "Damn it, Jim! I'm a writer, not a mathematician!" A couple of days ago I was doing the happy dance because I thought I had reached the 2/3 point of the blogging challenge I've been working on. Well, it's actually another 36 or so days away. Slog, slog, slog!


You've had that experience. You're reading a piece of fiction that just seems to suck you in and put you inside a character's head, sensing all the things they're sensing, as the tale progresses. You've also been in the unenviable situation of experiencing the story once removed. Feeling that disconnect that just doesn't allow you to become one with the action.
What is the difference between these two very different experiences? The problem just might be "character filters". What are these? They are those annoying overuses of attributives, he said, she felt, they leaned, etc. Yes, they have a place, especially when dialogue goes on for some time and the character's personalities and speech patterns are not very distinct. If you must use them, do it sparingly, just enough to beat back any confusion.
How many times have you read a sentence like this:
He heard the door close.
Right away, you are experiencing the action once removed, Instead of being a part of the action you're just reading about it. It's like having someone tell you about what is happening to a third party, when what's wanted is to be in the mind of the character. If the character is going to hear something, you should also hear it, without being told who's hearing it. Why not change the sentence to read:
The door closed.
Now you are hearing the sound of the door, whatever that may be to you. Maybe there's a squeak to a hinge, the click of the latch, and the solid contact of the door to the frame. Did you have to be told this? No, it was built into your internal sound effects loop. All you needed was to be told what happened, not who heard it. Better, right?
How about this one:
She watched the shop girl take the elegant dress from the window.
Wouldn't this have more immediacy written:
The shop girl took the elegant dress from the window.
By deleting two superfluous words - the author's intrusion - you have strengthened the action. You know the main character is watching this happen because you are in her position seeing the action. You are observing things from that character's view point.
Another way to remove filters can be used in internal dialogue. It is a common enough device, italics. It makes the thoughts stand out and produces the immediacy you are striving for:
What was that noise? He pulled the gun from his belt.
Be careful not to add your own filters either. For example:
I think they might have gone this way.
Shorten it to:
They might have gone this way.
What it boils down to is getting out of the reader's way and letting them experience the story as closely as possible. Have faith that the reader is far more intelligent than you might be giving him/her credit for being. No, they may not visualize things exactly as you did while writing the story. But, if you leave them the room to let their imaginations work, they'll have a richer experience and appreciated your absence.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis


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