Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stop Butting In

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Having a strong and unique voice is considered a good quality in an author. It is one of those intangibles that keeps readers coming back for more. But novice authors often have a rookie habit of "butting in" to the story to interject their own thoughts and/or information. It can be a jarring disruption to the story line. Here is an example:

John walked past the flowering shrubs, enjoying the smell. Forsythias are what he was smelling; they are indigenous to Southeast Michigan. He spotted Mary standing next to the water fountain, walked up to her and said, “Hi, Mary.”

Mary’s face lit up as she said, “Oh, hi, John, long time.”

~~~~~


See how the second sentence is just stuck in there? It stops the story's forward motion while the author tosses in a fact. It is better to deliver information by letting the characters do the talking - like this:

John walked past the flowering shrubs, enjoying the familiar smell. He spotted Mary standing next to the water fountain, walked up to her, and said, “Hi, Mary.”

Mary’s face lit up as she said, “Oh, hi, John, long time. Mmm, what is that lovely scent in the air?”

"Forsythias. They grow all over this part of the state."


***



Here's another example, one right out of a manuscript I am currently editing-

Mark, the Attorney General Prosecutor, took his turn to speak. He assured the judge that the Texas Department of Public Safety, a division of the Texas Rangers, was part of the investigation. He also said his office was coordinating with the Rangers, and that pre-coordination had been made with the adjoining county to prosecute the case. This is what the Texas Local Code provides for if the case is against the District Attorney. He stated for the record that if Byar County failed to respond to the charges, the Attorney General Office was prepared to assume prosecution responsibilities.

~~~~~


The bold red sentence, and that's how it stuck out to me when I first read it, is this author spouting off his knowledge of Texan judicial procedure. Nice that he's doing his research, but no need to stop the story dead. The fix is easy. Read it rewritten like this:

Mark, the Attorney General prosecutor, took his turn to speak. He assured the judge that the Texas Department of Public Safety, a division of the Texas Rangers, was part of the investigation. He also said his office was coordinating with the Rangers, and that pre-coordination had been made with the adjoining county to prosecute the case. He cited the Texas Local Code which provides for such relocation if the case is against the local District Attorney. He stated for the record that if Byar County failed to respond to the charges, the Attorney General Office was prepared to assume prosecution responsibilities.


***


Now the information is seamlessly woven into the story, with the author nicely "butting out." With this minor adjustment, his character is able to deliver the information within the performance of the scene.
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Posted by Marvin D Wilson, author of:
I Romanced the Stone, Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin blogs at Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.
He is an editor with All Things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.

10 comments :

  1. I love the simple elegance of that second fix.

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  2. That's great info! Very helpful. Thanks for sharing! :D

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  3. John, Linda, and Jenna - you are very welcome. :)

    Charlotte, yes ... often it's just a simple matter of turning over the needed information to the voice or thoughts of one of your characters that does the trick.

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  4. Excellent advice. It's that consistent authentic voice that wins readers over.

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  5. It can be tough to not get my voice mixed up with the character's voice. Great reminder. In a related but different area, I’ve noticed that the chatty style I use on my blog posts needs to be watched-for in my novels. Blog writing, as I’m still discovering, is a whole other animal. Fun, but has a pitfall or two.

    Best Regards, Galen
    GalenKindley.com

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  6. Helpful post, Marvin. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

    Galen makes a good point about how voice is different for blogging, etc. and a novel. It's easy to let one run into the other.

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  7. Gay, yes I agree, voice is very important.

    Galen and Maryanne - very true. Blogging, while a valuable practice in many ways, that helps develop voice, instills discipline (if you bolog frequently), and expands your writing style and areas of writing, is an entirely different animal than novel writing. Blogging is casual, sort of like a conversation. Novels are permanant works of art and need to be taken much more seriously with all your skills and maturity as a writer brought into play.

    The Old Silly From Free Spirit Blog

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  8. Great post and so true. I've been guilty of that on occasion. Thanks a lot.
    Blessings, Star

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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