Arrows in the River (Giving the Reader Time to Absorb)

I think I might be going too fast in the beginning. There I said it.

I read other short stories in the ‘Improbable Truth’ anthology and compared them to mine. Then I skimmed the old opening of the original StoneDragon draft, the last full version I wrote, and I found fast dialogue and action, but not a lot of setting, backstory, or context, at least in the first few pages. I dropped the reader into a fast moving stream and expected them to start swimming, without help. And maybe with a few arrows falling around their head (my featured image was boring until I added the arrow, which I have to tie in somehow!).

But seriously, I think I need to aim for slightly longer paragraphs early on, of adding something that isn’t fast moving action or dialogue, at least in the first few pages. Setting, mood, detail. Something to allow my reader’s mind to settle in, pick up the point of an individual paragraph and absorb it, before being assaulted by a new and completely different idea, every sentence or two. Or at least not until the pacing is intended to pick up and the reader is comfortably ensconced in the scene.

I should probably note that this flaw is probably better than the reverse: being too slow and predictable, which is the kiss of death, but I still have to write down my flaws when I see them–and I think I see one.

Hopefully, I’m not be as bad as I used to be when I first wrote that early StoneDragon draft, and I definitely don’t want to swing completely to the other side of the pendulum, and have a pedantically boring opening, but I think that I will probably add this question to my checklist of items when I’m editing a story. I’m still going to try having an opening that grabs you, but hopefully not at a speed where you are lost.

A fast moving stream can shock you, wake you up, and get your heart rate racing. All good things for a chapter. But if the water’s too fast and deep, you’re just going to drown…

Especially if you get shot by arrows. 😉

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A new sketch for the post. I also have a hockey injury tonight: a slapshot to the little finger. A lot of blood and the nail is mottled black. So not much extra typing going on. 😉 Most of this post was done beforehand. Before ‘hand’, he he. Okay, maybe a bit light headed from blood loss and a single beer. Hope your night went better!

On the WIP front, I’m finally shockingly happy with the outline and am cleaning up my world-building references into organized files in Scrivener before tackling the rewrite. Which will be followed by a paid edit and possibly a copy edit. So still quite a ways from complete. But I’m getting excited by it again, which is a nice change!

PS, I have a guest blog coming soon, which is a first for the blog and pretty exciting, And which will also hopefully give the little finger a chance to recover! :)

Stenographer Notes or Dusty Diary (Narrative Filter)

 

A comment that slapped me upside the head a year or two ago was around narrative technique, and specifically if a filter was being applied or not. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source, but it essentially said that a narrator can be one of either two form:

  1. Objective (no filter).

“Just the facts”. Such as a stenographer’s word-for-word typing  of a court proceeding.

Here, the author is trying to describe the action of the character and world as clearly as possible, without distortion, as if there were a video camera recording events. The reader sees facts, or ‘truth’. (I know, truth is subjective, but that’s the point. This style of writing tries to avoid subjectivity.)

You can still have emotion, and even close POV, with this narrative voice, but you are providing information to the reader as accurately as you can, without bias, other than what is clearly identified as the thought of the reader. You can have

‘Jonathan smiled. He was sure that there was a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, no matter how CNN reported it.’

But you’re less likely to have:

“Susan smirked at Jonathan. She didn’t know the truth, how the rainbow was only anchored to earth by the presence of a leprechaun. Scholars might argue that point later, but those who deny magic have only their limited world views to blame. But I digress. As Jonathan stepped forward…”

In the latter, you have a strong and definitive narrator statement about something that isn’t as clear cut. The narrator is filtering the information and providing you his or her views on it. There is a narrative filter.

  1. Subjective (filter).

“Here’s how you should interpret the facts”. A filter is a decision to tell a story with someone’s bias. A diary, instead of a video camera. Someone’s ‘truth’, as they would remember or experience it.

In this case, the narrator might still be reliable (they’re still telling you the truth as best they can), but with some ‘flavor’ in how they tell it. Or they might be unreliable. They are deliberately misleading you, in how they tell the story. But either way, it should be obvious to the reader that some kind of a filter is being applied. They should ‘hear’ the bias in the writing. Events are being interpreted for them, to an extent that the facts don’t support on their own.

As an aside, a narrative filter can either be using the opinions and ‘voice’ of the point of view (POV) character, or someone else, which is a significant choice to make, but beyond the scope of this post.

Summary:

This clarification of narrative voice (that it can be objective or subjective, a filter of colored glass or a clear window without distortion) may seem obvious, but was an important point for me to think through. If you don’t decide what you want to do on this front, it’s easy to go astray. Plus, it’s also nice to know the range of things that you CAN do! Is your narrator almost non-existent? Is your narrator the character themselves? Or is the narrator someone else, maybe someone with a strong opinion on the story, such as a secondary character? And if you do have a subjective narrative filter, who are they telling this story to? Is it anyone in specific? If you haven’t thought through all these questions, you run a big danger in writing your story. One of the biggest risks in voice is inconsistency, which clearly marks you as an amateur to a publishing professional. So don’t do it!

This is one of these things that is easy to get right if you think about it (or at least avoid getting wrong), and very easy to go wrong if you don’t. Hopefully this post helps!

Best,

Adrian.

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Life is crazy, outside of writing, so you’re getting a repeat image. But I haven’t used it for a while and kind of like it, so there you go. :) Also note that I will be posting on Selah Janel’s website, Come Selahway With Me, in the next couple of days, as part of the ‘Improbable Truth’ Sherlock Holmes’ anthology’s blog tour. Please come and visit! I’ll try to update the link closer to the day. I’ll be talking about Theme and Spiders (very Halloweeny). 😀 Enjoy!