Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Writing 101: Unnecessary Storytelling

So I’m not going to point fingers at any authors, but I will say that lately I was exposed to some unnecessary storytelling...and I’m kind of mad about it. Misdirecting your readers is one thing, but wasting their time falls into a whole new category. So let’s find out if you’re guilty of unnecessary storytelling, because maybe you are.

Writing and Writing

For every author, there is that moment when thought no longer even seems to apply. Suddenly the words are just pouring out, so hot and thick your fingers can’t even keep up with them. And you’re in such a zone, Mount Vesuvius couldn’t possibly shake up your concentration. You are writing, and it’s going well. Iit’s when you’re in this zone that unnecessary storytelling might start to sneak in. It happens more often than you think.

There is a difference between being overly-descriptive and telling unnecessary story. I get bored sometimes when Jean Auel goes off on a tangent about how the wooly mammoths are behaving and what the lichens look like, or whatever, but that’s all still relevant to the story. Unnecessary storytelling is a whole different animal altogether.

Does every single character in your book serve a function and advance the plot? Does every single scene lead to another scene that advances the plot? If you can’t answer yes to both these queries, then I’m afraid you’re guilty of unnecessary storytelling.

Here’s an example, and I’ll try to be broad. Supposed you’re telling an epic story that’s character-rich. Maybe you introduce a character with a compelling backstory, and write a scene in your story wherein this character's backstory is discussed but not revealed. However, there is the promise that it will be revealed in the future.

This is a classic literary technique, and a good one. Now the reader is engaged. The reader is coming up with theories about this character’ story. Who are they? Where did they come from? What secrets are still going to be revealed? The reader is looking for clues, now, as the story progresses. They’re trying to unravel the mystery.

Now let’s suppose that the character dies, just like that. And now they are dead and who the heck cares about the backstory that you’ve wasted four entire lengthy books debating and wondering about? No one, that’s who.

And that’s unnecessary storytelling. Don’t tempt your readers with a carrot and then never let them eat it. Don’t introduce a character unless that character’s role is going to come to a full and complete resolution. Don’t write a single scene unless it serves a purpose, to reveal information or otherwise advance the plot.

If you’re doing all that, you won’t commit the sin of unnecessary storytelling -- and I will never write an angry blog post about your books.

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