Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sometimes You Got To Keep It Simple...

I've been on a writing roll recently with novel #2 "THE SHIP".  I mean I got some serious wordage down, like over 10,000 words in a couple of days, which I thought was impressive.  But then it happened...  I hit a wall.  Not literally of course, just figuratively.  My story suddenly ground to a halt and I had no idea how to get out of the corner I'd put myself in.

Sometimes, writing can be like going through a maze.  You go straight, come to a junction turn right, go a ways, make a left, straight, another left, etc. and you really feel like you're making progress.  In fact, you'll be out of this thing in no time... then you come to a dead end and you have no idea what went wrong.  Sometimes, you can pull out a hammer and chisel, or a huge drill like Wile E Coyote in the old Roadrunner cartoons and make your own way out.

At first I pulled out the ACME Super-Atomic Laser Drill to get out of my current dilemma and get the story moving again.  Unfortunately this led to a new problem.   My efforts did not FLOW with the rest of the story.  In fact it felt forced and was throwing the book out of whack.  And it was going to be very obvious to the reader.

So, I chose another route.  I took a few steps back and retraced my path to see how I got into this mess in the first place.  I wound up losing a lot of the word count I had been so proud of, but it was necessary in order to find the problem.  It turned out I was adding in too many characters into the story.  I already had a fair number of people who were already more than adequate and able to fulfill the same function as these newcomers I'd created.  Now I had a choice to make.  Should I be using the new people just to give them a cameo and then have them disappear from this story, in order to use them in a bigger role in another book?  For this had been the plan.  The problem was where I was inserting them.  The timing was all wrong, I was putting them in a the wrong spot.  Furthermore, I had to ask myself, were they really needed at all?

Don't get me wrong, there are times when you may want a character(s) for a cameo in your current work because you plan to bring them back in another work where they will play a more major role.  But you have to place them just right, especially if their role is not critical to your current story.  This is what happened to me.  Where I was placing them in my story, would have logically necessitated their continuing appearance and involvement in the story.  It wouldn't have made sense to just bring them on and then dump them afterwards, especially when they're the parents of one of your two main characters.

So, I looked over the scene where I brought them in and asked myself, how can I simplify things?  Do I have characters available (including my current batch of supporting ones) who can fulfill the same function without causing a major disruption?  The answer was yes.  In fact, the ones I chose actually made the transition to the next scene much easier.  So that's the route I chose.

Now, I know that in real life we meet a number of different people every day, who may or may not play a major part in our day.  But that's different from a book.  In a book, your audience is already trying to keep track of a number of characters you've already created.  It's not always a good idea to overload the reader and expect them to be able to juggle who's who and where they came in.  So little cameos that serve no real purpose can be a problem.

However, if you're laying down a hint of something major to come later in your current story or a future one,, that's different.  But even then, the timing of the cameo must be just right to make that character's cameo memorable.  Plus you may seriously want to give the reader a major hint there is more to this person and we we will be meeting them again one day.  I did this with one of my two villains in "THE SHIP".  He showed up a couple of times in "THE BRIDGE", and the way I did it left my readers fully aware that this was the start of a series and he'd be back.  I got a number of e-mails asking about him after people had read "THE BRIDGE", which let me know I had done a good job.

So sometimes we need to keep things simple, not just for the readers but for ourselves as well.  Make your story enjoyable and easy to follow.  And if you are writing a series, it's good to leave your readers with hints or mysteries that more is to come.  But don't overwhelm them by leaving too many mysteries unanswered at once.  You may wind up confusing or disappointing your readers when you don't follow up on the one they wanted you to explore.  It's important to play fair, remember without loyal readers and fans, you may wind up without an audience.

So be careful about how you load up your story.  Keep it simple enough to follow, without losing the complexities and twists that keep your readers coming back for more.

Until next time, take car and keep writing.