“If we had bacon, we could have bacon and eggs, if we had eggs.” – Unknown.
As I continue working through The Road Out with Rob, I am dismayed by the incredible amount of unnecessary verbiage I create while telling a story.
The old quotation above, it’s origins lost in the mists of time, is a good example of a group of words that say precisely nothing.
A character in a story saying the above would add nothing to the plot, aside from adding a mild bit of humor, maybe.
No, brevity is the storyteller’s greatest ally in the war against immersion breakage. Every extra word we write increases the risk of jarring the smooth ride we’re trying to give our reader’s imagination.
The days of spending four paragraphs describing a breezy morning in the Dales are done and dusted. Nobody really cares whether John split the wavering grass blades, his boots kissed by the morning dew whilst the trees whispered quiet sonnets to one another as the morning mists, like wraiths of the night past, faded silently to their sunlit slumber.
All we need to know is John woke early the next morning and went for a walk.
Rob has assured me that I am telling a great story, and to ensure that is the case, he’s only reading the book as it’s finished. When we’re happy with a chapter, I send him the next one.
He has no idea what happens next, and this is helping us tremendously, as it allows him to gauge whether the facets of the plot are being introduced well or not.
So far, so good. All he is finding are technical issues. However, there are a lot of them.
The one thing he keeps emphasizing is for me to stop trying so hard. And he’s dead right.
I fuss around, making sure we have the lighting, the mood, the emotions and every movement plotted.
The trouble with that is that I am trying to construct a mind picture for the reader, rather than letting them build their own.
This is a result of our cultural shift, with books now being played as movies in our heads, rather than entertaining with literary showmanship.
There are still great writers of heavy literature out there, but I am not one of them.
I think we must be honest with ourselves about what we do best, and utilize those skills which stand out as special; or at least as better than our others.
It seems to me that my abilities lie firmly in the storytelling side of things. I create believable and interesting characters, putting them in challenging situations and bringing out the best and or the worst in their natures.
But when I try to wax lyrical, the wheels fall off.
Early on in our working relationship, Rob had me in fits of laughter, as he told me what he thought of a scene where Arthur comes home from a day at work and greets his wife with a kiss.
“In he comes,” he said, “seizing his wife in an embrace. All of a sudden the violins are playing, the birds in the trees are singing a love song while the breeze wafts through the curtains.”
“Gimme a break here,” he says in his southern drawl, “The guy comes home and gives his wife a damn kiss, for cryin’ out loud.”
Working with this guy is part work, part friendship and part comedy.
As we progress, I’m seeing more of this stuff for myself. I tend to giggle a bit, as I imagine what he would have said if he’d seen some of it. Thankfully, since chapter four I’ve been re-writing it first and then sending it to him.
For some reason, I struggle with chapter beginnings, I’ve no idea why. The events are jumbled in a disorienting fashion and it takes a few hours of fiddling before a clean start emerges, usually using half as many words.
One thing I have found very useful is regular breaks. I only ever re-write each chapter once a day, usually doing two at a time. Then I walk away, putting it out of my head for the day.
Incredible as it sounds, the next day I will sit down, open the chapter I re-wrote yesterday, and find things I had not seen.
“Hang on there, William my lad,” you say, “You could be doing this forever!”
Not so, dear reader, not so. Remember, this is my first novel. Hopefully, the first of many. I am learning how to do this from the ground up.
I left school at fifteen, worked in trades all my life, and only started any kind of writing when I started doing technical writing at work and blogging at home.
I would like to elicit as much knowledge as possible from this first time round, rather than pick it up as I go along.
Besides, Rob is only with me for this first book, I’m sure he has much better things to do than hold my hand for years to come.
He currently has chapters 7 and 8, while I continue to beaver away at chapters 9 & 10.
One third of the way through, and way ahead of schedule. I’ll try to keep you updated a bit more often, as I continue to eradicate violins, birds and wafting breezes.