Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A WRITING PET PEEVE

Books, plays, and movies have a lot in common. There's a whole different world that opens up on stage or in the pages of a book. Most people read, attend the theatre, or go to a movie to escape for a time into a fantasy world, to discover something new, or to see the ordinary from a different perspective.

I can't imagine attending a play where all of the action takes place off stage and only the emotional reaction of the major character is shown to the audience. Yet I just read a book like that. I usually read several books a week, but I struggled through this one for nearly three weeks. I kept telling myself it had to get better. Afterall, the author is a well-known and popular writer. It didn't get better and I felt cheated.

Most writers leave some of the action off stage, especially less important transitional material, but I suspect most readers want and expect something to actually happen before their eyes. Info dumps are a form of off-camera action and most readers are quite adamantly opposed to this devise. I suspect most readers are equally annoyed as was I, when they get only the reaction and not the action.

Of course action novel fans expect to see something happen, but what about character fans? Am I wrong to think these readers expect to see growth and change in the characters rather than just be told that the experience caused a change?

Writing a book is a lot like staging a play or producing a movie. Each scene is plotted out with a goal or objective the point-of-view character is trying to achieve. We see the steps he or she takes to achieve the goal. Usually a disaster occurrs to prevent achieving the goal or the goal is reached and the result isn't as expected. Then comes the sequel portion of the scene. There is a reaction, followed by the formulation of a new plan or goal. The story falls flat if the reader sees only the zooming ahead to achieve goals and it falls even flatter if the audience only glimpses reactions without any of the action. If the writer can visualize the story and allow the reader to see it unfold, the story will be much stronger and far more rewarding than the book I just finished. Remember to show---not tell. Put the action on the stage.

I'd love to hear other readers views on showing vs. telling, reaction without action, or any other peeves readers find objectionable. The current contest ends next Tuesday. Comments on my blogs on the V-Formation also count in this contest.

2 comments:

M. Gray said...

I liked the advice from James Scott Bell, author of Plot and Structure. In his section on showing vs. telling he explained one way to improve the very beginning of a book. He said many times chapter 1 is full of telling and chapter 2 is where the action starts, so to switch chapters 1 and 2 and then you'll find you can often drop chapter 2 completely. That way you start right with the action and it adds a bit of mystery to the characters.

I love books that jump right in. I'm spoiled that way. :)

Rachael Renee Anderson said...

Thank you, Jennie! Although I've only published one book, I've read many and have always had the tendency to skim over areas with little action, too much description, and no dialogue. I used to worry that I had some version of ADD, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels this way.