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Difficult questions for writers


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How much is too much?

Where do you draw the line on content?

When do you say the story is getting verbose or flowery (overly ornate with descriptions)?

How much is too much narrative description and not enough dialogue or action?

How much is too much dialogue and not enough description or action?

(I doubt there's such a thing as too much action. I mean story action, not that kind of action, you doofus; if there's too much action, you'll get sore and maybe catch something you don't want....)

What if the story blurs into an area you didn't want to go to?

What if you start seeing autobiography in your stories? (That may be the "Mary Sue" story type, or just elements from your life or your friends' lives, when you didn't intend to do that.)

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Why am I asking? Last year, I had a story idea and spent a few days basically non-stop writing. I cranked out several heart-felt chapters. The writing's good; I know it is and I'm not ashamed to say it. Then I had to rest. Unfortunately, the muse or plot bunny took a rest too, and I have to coax it back. Carrot, anyone?

But when I had set it aside to try to figure out what to do next, I discovered a problem when I reread it. It was going in a direction I wasn't comfortable with. One character had shifted from an imaginary character to someone very much like me, and that made me uncomfortable, because I wanted him to be a character, not me. The other character was, in some sense, also me, but a much younger me. And unless something very different happened, despite objections from the older character, they were headed for something that I wouldn't approve of, under almost any circumstances. Maybe I was over-reacting, and both of them would've overcome and grown in different ways as the story went along. Frankly, I didn't know what to make of it. I know most of my issues and why I have them, but that bothered me. I'm thinking of picking it back up and hoping they will indeed be the better selves that I think they are.

Any helpful opinions?

I have another idea that started off from an image in the opening scenes of a story I read whose content I didn't like once I got into the story. But the opening images were powerful enough that they stuck with me. So an idea developed that I'm thinking of writing about. It most definitely wouldn't go in that direction, but the character would have a history that would require some explanation. Also, I have no experience with that or with living on the street or the club scene other than what I've read.

So am I nuts? Am I being tempted by the Dark Side of the Force?

I think maybe this is just me working through my issues. I've been in the closet a long time, most of it spent denying increasing feelings because of past experience and religious issues. (No, I wasn't abused, but I did have an early experience with a classmate that I'm sure was traumatic for us both.) So now I'm trying to face my feelings and figure out how, or if, I can do anything about them or come out, and how best to do that. (Don't worry, I have no intention of unsafe sex, and I want a relationship with someone, not just wild monkey sex.)

I'm thinking of writing down my own experiences, separately, as self-therapy. I have no idea if they'd ever make it out of my file drawer, but I feel like writing them down. I've shared a little with two online friends, and that helped me realize a few things from an angle I'd never thought of, so perhaps at least writing them down is a good idea.

I'm, uh, really laying a very private part of myself bare on this board, but it's what I've got for now.

I'd appreciate your opinions, folks, both from authors and from readers, whatever stage you're at in dealing with yourself, and whatever age you are.

Well, here goes, gonna press the "Post" button. (Well, OK, literally, it says, "Submit," but I'm not really into that....)

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Hi, Blue. My answer to your question is: there are no easy answers. Every story has to be judged on its own merits; every writer has his or her own particular style, and what works for one person may not work for everyone. (And I'm speaking in a general way -- there are still specific technical rules, as discussed before, but the rest of it is an artistic choice.)

I do believe, though, that a lot of the novels I characterize as being too long are those that lean much too much on letting dialog carry the story. My feeling is, you have to bounce back and forth every so often, maybe every other scene, to telescope the story with description instead of dialog. At the same time, you can't violate the classic "show, don't tell" rule. Don't DESCRIBE an exciting scene that happened off-screen: get right in the middle of the scene and SHOW it happening as it happens.

As to narrative description, Monica Wood's excellent book Description (part of the Writers Digest "Elements of Fiction Writing" series) was very helpful to me. I think you need description to set the mood, time, feel, and location of a new scene, just as an intro. Sometimes that works; other times, a powerful dialog scene works better.

I sense that you've occasionally run into Writers' Block, and I can tell you for a fact that everybody has. (OK, maybe everybody except Stephen King, for whom writing is like turning on the goddamned faucet.) I ran into a little of that on Angel, due partly to horrific pressures at work, and also due to my crazed obsessive-compulsive nature, where I felt compelled to make the thing as perfect as possible.

I finally realized, "screw it -- I'm not gonna try to make this thing perfect. I'm just going to jot down the bare bones of the scenes, flesh it out, and then move on. I'll come back and rewrite it again someday, and I won't worry if it's not perfect." Once I did that, and just let go of the thing and relaxed a little bit, it worked out fine. I wound up NOT doing a major rewrite after all, and kept most of what I did as-is.

BTW, I do think there is a point at which there can be too much action. Jagged Angel has everything but the friggin' kitchen sink in it, and I must confess to wincing at all the crap I threw into the story. But I'd rather it be this way than being boring. Is it believable? Well, of the 1100 or so emails I've received, I think only about half-a-dozen said, "jesus, there's so much going on in this story, my HEAD is spinning," but again -- the thing was entertaining. Sure, it borders on melodrama and soap opera, but I tried to put as much of a realistic spin on it as I could.

My final thought is: most of the technical nuts-and-bolts writing questions you asked are answered in many, many fine books on fiction writing out there. Have you read the books on my short list in my Gay Writing Tips piece? Read those, and you'll find the answers, or at least you'll find a place from which you can make a choice.

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  • 1 month later...

Pecman is right. Your artistic values are what has to guide the answers to most of these questions. If, for instance, you asked Poe and Hemingway the question about overly flowery writing, i'm sure you'd get very different answers, and i'm pretty sure that we can all agree that both were at least modestly successful writers. :lol:

When it comes to the question of dialog versus narrative, i'd refer you to some of the stories by the brother's Mcphee on ASSGM.net. 'Nuff said about that.

I'll say up front that i've never written a novel, so i can't speak to things sliding into unlooked for places (speaking of which, that sentence did NOT come out sounding like i thought it would) because short stories are all about control. But i do believe i have an idea for a novel, and i know that i'd write myself a little paragraph about what was going to happen in a chapter before i wrote it. I guess i'm, at least potentially, the structured kind of writer, when it comes to pieces that go to novel length. I realize that this may not actually control this problem entirely, but i think it would help.

I don't think there's a problem with using yourself or aspects of yourself as models for your characters. If you don't say otherwise, most of your readers will be none the wiser. And writing a story that explores issues your dealing with is a lot cheaper than weekly therapy.

BTW--i like your long winded and convoluted posts. I learn a lot from them. and i have a few laughs as i go.

cheers!

aj

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  • 1 year later...

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