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Friday, June 17, 2011

Weekend Workshop!

I've been more than a little slack in my writing posts, but in the spirit of Wednesday's Mission Statement about craft (thank you, all, for your amazing, heartfelt, and reassuring responses!), and my constant efforts to improve my writing—as well as to help others improve (check out the work we do at Paper Lantern Lit)—I thought I should get back into the Weekend Writing Workshop bandwagon.

I've been doing a lot of editing over the past few weeks, and I've noticed a particular device used, and overused, in many young writers' submissions. I'm going to call it Action Anticipation. Here's an example:


I was day-dreaming about that one second when Andy leaned into me, when it almost looked like he was about to kiss me, when a voice pulled me rudely from my thoughts.

"Hey, Lauren! Nod-off, much?"

I whipped around. Chris was standing behind me, smirking.


There's nothing WRONG with this, but please note that the bolded portion of the sentence anticipates—and thus renders slightly redundant—the dialogue. Also, this is not exactly in line with how we experience interruptions. The interruption HAPPENS, and we process it afterward. Take this revise:


I was day-dreaming about that one second when Andy leaned into me, when it almost looked like he was about to kiss me…

"Hey, Lauren! Nod off, much?"

I whipped around. Chris was standing behind me, smirking.


This achieves the exact same effect, doesn't it, using slightly fewer words? It has the added bonus of being more "real" to our experience. That is: the reader has an experience while reading that is closer to the experience of the characters. The reader's train of thought is interrupted, just as the character's is. Does this make sense?


Similarly, take this example.


Staring out over the stillness of the water, the motionless boats moored in the harbor, with their white brushstroke masts standing vividly against the purple sky, it was impossible to imagine that anything could go wrong.

Until, that is, a loud explosion sounded behind me, and I dropped to my knees, cursing.

"What the hell was that?"


Versus this revise:


Staring out over the stillness of the water, the motionless boats moored in the harbor, with their white brushstroke masts standing vividly against the purple sky, it was impossible to imagine that anything could go wrong.

Boom.

A loud explosion sounded behind me and I dropped to my knees, cursing.

"What the hell was that?"


Again, the goal is to move the reader's experience and the character's more closely into alignment, and not provide the reader with information that the character does not yet have.

Action Anticipation can be used as an effective tool occasionally, but it's important not to over-use it, because it places a divide between the reader and the story—like all "devices," it reveals the "craft" behind the novel, and thus takes the reader out of the story itself. It is a little bit like showing the seams on a piece of clothing. Every so often, that can be cool and avant-garde. But too much, and it just makes you start thinking about the stitching.

4 comments:

Elleira said...

i love your posts!

Peony said...

This is so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing this information. I'll certainly be looking out for this in my writing from now on.

blametheweatherman said...

I am the Queen of Redundancy and Action Anticipation. It's frustrating to think I'm treating my readers like they are morons when... well... I >am< my "readers".

Adam: YA-Weekly said...

That absolutely helps, Lauren. It's similar to screenplay writing when beginners have a tendency to write in scenarios that wouldn't translate onto the screen because it's internal or isn't a part of the Now.

Example:
(ALAN is cleaning up the bathroom for his date, already having removed the trimmed hairs that littered the sink.)

instead of:

(A sweaty, anxious-looking ALAN is cleaning the bathroom, wiping down the sink of trimmed hairs with a tissue. He visibly relaxes.)

Maybe that's not exactly the same thing, haha, but it's nice to be reminded about this.

Another note I'd like to add onto your post for writers is to maybe sometimes give yourself a restraint on the word count; it's a great exercise that forces you to polish your work, and we can all learn to avoid our big bad friend Action Anticipation in the process.

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