Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Repeat Offenders

I am in the final phases of editing my manuscript for “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”. I have a tripod set up in my study with a huge post it note easel. Currently, I’m looking at my list of “repeat offenders”. Like most authors, I tend to have repeat mistakes in my manuscript. Here is my list and maybe some of you could share what’s on your “repeat offender” list:

1 -- RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. One of my spiritual gifts is teaching. And, I am an apologist, a defender of the truthfulness of the Christian faith. Therefore, I tend to “lecture” in my manuscript. After all, I want the reader to fully understand what I am trying to communicate in a particular paragraph or in a line of dialogue. What the reader misses when I “explain” is the joy found in reading a well written passage that forces the reader-- really, invites the reader -- to work with the author to understand just what is going on. When I read a book, I want to join the author in the discovery process. When I resist the urge to explain, I am leaving some of the work of discovery to the reader!

2 -- No Cartoon Action. This problem comes from my years of working with theater. After over 20 years of writing, directing, and producing plays I tend to ask actors to over exaggerate body language or facial expressions. On the stage, this “cartoon like action” translate well. But, on the written page, such action can become farcical or contrived. I have learned to carefully portray the action sequences to make sure they make sense in the real world.

3 -- Five senses in every scene. One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. Bradbury excels at bringing all of the senses into his scenes. My theater experience pushes me into paying careful attention to what is seen and heard. But, the tapestry of the written word allows a richer canvas. I want to explore the tactile experiences in each scene. I want my reader to hear the ambient background sounds and to smell the sometimes awful but often exotic fragrances in the air. Another of my favorite authors to use all of the senses is James Lee Burke in his Dave Robicheaux novels. The stories take place in New Orleans and what better place can you think of to afford a rich palette of sensations?

4 -- What is the Mystery Box? J. J. Abrams, director of the new Star Trek movies and developer of such shows as Lost has an incredible lecture to the TED conference. Here is the link and my editor, Andy Meisenheimer suggested I watch this. Abrams has a “mystery box” given to him by his late grandfather. The box came from a magic store and Abrams has never opened it. Our stories always should contain a “mystery box”. What is in the box? What is the mystery? The best stories are ones of discovery as we are led deeper and deeper into the world of the story’s “mystery box”. In my latest novel, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” there is a mysterious “box” at the center of the story. But, the mystery is now really what is in the box. The mystery is why does my protagonist want the box? Watch the video at this link and you will never again write a story without your very own personal “mystery box”! And, after you watch the video you'll see why I have another reminder to add the "Jaws" scene and it is NOT what you think!

5 -- Real World Conversations. Another carry over from my playwriting experience is the need to convey exposition through dialogue. In theater, there are no paragraphs to describe setting and mood. Narration can help, but is often stilted and slows down the pace of the show. I tell my theater classes to avoid “as you knows”. For instance, the maid answers the phone. “No, Mr. Smith is not here today. As you know, Mr. Smith is a very wealthy man with many ties to the oil business. And, as you know, he is a legal battle with his estranged brother over his late father’s oil business.” You get the idea. While I don’t use “as you know” consciously, I tend to pad my dialogue with explanatory phrases. Just as I mentioned above in RUE, I have to pull back and make my dialogue sound natural. Reading it out loud helps.

My list is longer than five items, but I’ll stop for now. What areas of improvement do you suggest a successful author should look at?


Debby Mayne said...

Great information, Bruce!

I think it's important to have a nice flow in narrative, so I generally recommend reading scenes aloud. Of course, if anyone else is around, they'll think we're crazy, but we're writers, so they probably think that anyway.

Bruce Hennigan said...

In the days before bluetooth for your cell phone, I would practice dialogue scenes in the car. People thought I was talking to one of my multiple personalities! Which, when you think of it, I was!
Now, I can read it out loud and everyone thinks I am on the phone. I even try and nail the inflection and sound of my characters' voices, which really sounds strange sometimes. But, you point is very good. Reading it out loud allows us to make our prose flowing and lyrical and our dialogue believable. Thanks for the comment.

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

I really like this post, Bruce. Very good advice.