Saturday, May 4, 2013

Getting Out of the Story

Last month I wrote about pulling the reader into the story, hooking him so he couldn't put the book down. This month I'll write on getting out of the story, that is, the author getting out, not the reader.

Recently I line-edited a manuscript where the author, charming as he is, was ever present, directing the characters, commenting on their foibles, mulling over their actions and dialogue, with "in facts," "indeeds," and explanations of the characters' feelings. This is, by the way, a great story with an unusual theme and an action-packed plot. But as you can guess, as the author followed his characters' every move and thought, the plot thread grew dimmer and harder to find. With some good cutting, the plot popped out and sparkled.

It's easy to point out where others err. It's much harder to take the scissors or ax to one's own work. But trust me, unless it's a personal essay, the reader does not care what the writer thinks.


  1. So true! The writer needs to step aside and let the characters tell the story. An intrusive writer's asides demeans the reader's intelligence. Isn't this a part of the old "show, don't tell"?

  2. Getting out of the story is definitely important. Most of the time at least. I have to say when I read your post though, Linda, the wonderful "series of unfortunate events" book by Lemony Snicket popped into mind. In those books, there is an ever-present narrator with very definite opinions. But that totally fits the style of those books and (for me, at least) is part of what makes them so wonderful. So I guess I would say that it makes sense to keep the author out... unless there is a very good reason to keep the author in.

  3. True. I think the author has to stay out, even if the narrator is 'in' as a type of character in the move, as in the Series of Unfortunate Events.
    Keeping oneself out of our character's way is one of the biggest challenges for authors.

  4. It is something how taking away info makes work so much easier to understand. Yet I do think all that extraneous info can be helpful in a first draft. Sometimes I write a scene I know will be cut as I write it, yet I know I need to write it. I may not know why -- but I need to write it and keep it in the first draft. But in revision -- out it goes!

  5. I agree...every time I add another line to my novel draft, I am thinking, Is this what the character would say, or is this something I would say? This is true especially of the younger characters--we are writing as adults, but our characters are mainly children or teens, so we have to shake that adult voice out!