Monday, August 5, 2013

Adding Depth Is Not Writing A Play-By-Play Account

Bob woke up at his usual 5:00 am time in his small suburb town of Winchester just a 35 minute commute from Philadelphia. He would normally be able to take the standard route down Johnson Street, turning right at the first light and then taking Highway 74 directly into town.

After turning off the alarm, Bob padded his way across the bedroom floor, glancing outside at the flower bed he had worked on all weekend, noting a few of the Begonias and Dahlias appreciating both the colors and the time he had put in. Upon reaching the bathroom, he turned on the light, turned on the sink to allow the hot water to heat up and then headed to the toilet...

TMI !!!!!!!

I know I am frequently saying it here on the blog, and I also know a lot of other editors and agents who scream the same thing time and time again. We need more depth to the stories. We need to see more about the characters, more about the world they live in. More, More, More. Unfortunately, I do think a lot of authors out there might have not been hearing us correctly, or maybe simply misinterpreted what we had been saying. In other words, adding more depth to the story is not just adding more stuff, or describing everything the character says and does. Depth involves getting into the characters head and the world they live in.

Understanding what we mean about depth of storytelling is to see the complexities of the characters and their worlds. It also involves something editors and agents are also screaming about - Show Don't Tell. The subtleties of their worlds and their lives need to be dropped in by the author when the time arises. They sneak in so at the end of the scene, the chapter or the book, we feel we really know who these people were. We know their troubles and feelings. We have been there.

But what do we find authors doing? They tell us everything. The first two paragraphs of this blog were an attempt to do just that. (I know it's not the best writing, but it was early this morning and I only had one cup of coffee). The point is, do we know anything about Bob? No! There is no insight here at all to the character. We know what he did this weekend. We know there is a garden and we know his route to work, but that is it. In the end, we know nothing about WHO Bob is.

There is a second element of this whole play-by-play approach so many authors take. It slows the reading down. When I come across stories like this, I know I get bored really quick! I keep asking myself, "So what? When are we going to get to the story?"

I just finished one submission in particular and the author could have literally thrown the entire first chapter out. It was nothing but small talk and didn't advance the story at all. Throughout the whole 15 pages, there was only one nugget of information that was useful. We know the brother didn't like the other brother's new approach to work. The other stuff that took place around the family picnic. The information about the food, the conversations about the kids baseball games or the reminiscing about baseball games in the past did nothing to advance the story.

The point is that yes, in the real world, there are plenty of times when there is nothing going on and we do just go through the motions. But let's face it. This does not make a good read. In reality, if you took your standard day, one where nothing major happens, would you want to read about those 8+ hours? Probably not.

So if you don't want to read it, please, don't write it!


1 comment:

  1. i love this post. It clearly explains the difference between telling and showing.

    Thanks alot!