Hard Writing Lessons 6 – Head Games
I’ve been writing fiction since I was in grade school, and I noticed the other day that my first published novel hit the bookstores in 2009, which is a lot further back than I realized. Yet I don’t remotely feel like I’ve “figured it all out.” I’m still re-learning a lot of lessons even as I learn new ones. To be a good writer, I think you have to constantly pay attention to story structure and characters not only in chosen genres but in others as well, not to mention other media… and then there’s studying human nature and history and… well, I could digress, but let me get this back on point.
Yesterday I was revising a scene about 30 thousand words into the next book right after I’ve switched to a new point of view character. He’s not new to the readers, but we’ve never had his PoV and we haven’t seen him yet in THIS particular book. So naturally I started with him alone and in the middle of a sort of self-assessment to get readers up to speed about what he’s doing now and what he’s thinking about.
It mostly worked, and I polished it up, but it still felt off. I kept thinking about it through the course of the evening and as I drifted off to sleep and it finally came to me. No drama. The scene would be FAR more interesting to read if my character’s talking with someone in a way that’s revealing both of his character and that of the person he’s talking with. It seems so obvious now. I can hardly wait to sit down and re-draft the scene this morning.
Of course, this wouldn’t work if I didn’t know the characters quite well — I might end up with two cardboard cut-outs parroting information to one another. I call those “as you know, Bob” scenes, where information is conveyed to the reader in an artificial way disguised as conversation. It’s one flavor of what’s known as an info dump. The trick to avoid THAT is making the information something that the characters would honestly be discussing, now, and to filter what they’re saying through their own outlook and personality. I’m going to sign off and see if I can make that happen.