Friday, July 20, 2012

Pivotal moments

Good fiction writing, and I would guess good poetry as well, is based on a rendering of pivotal moments into scenes that move the characters and the reader forward into a new space of knowing and feeling. While I was on writing retreat recently, I read through my current novel again and began charting the pivotal moments. Did I have one in each chapter or segment of a chapter? Did they add up to forward movement (with perhaps an occasional two steps back)? And I saw I had done a pretty good job of that and I saw what I needed to fix.

That experience has helped me in editing a manuscript for a client this week. Some of his chapters have pivotal moments but too many do not. While they are full of information, the information is about two things: pivotal moments that happen off-stage and all the choices and preparations and decisions that get made for the on-stage and off-stage pivotal moments.

Readers can tolerate quite happily a few minor moments that happen off-stage. But after a while, it's unsatisfying, like watching somebody's slides of their trip to Egypt. You can get an idea but you don't experience any of it emotionally. We want to be in the story, not read about the story. This is the old show,don't tell axiom.

In the second instance, informational reporting is just damn tedious. He told me that she told him that the check had been mailed on Friday from a post office in a little town. Such information is only of value if the information links directly to an upcoming pivotal moment. Otherwise, we don't care how the check got there. Only that it did.

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