Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What I See Most Often

A popular post from September 2011

by Annette Lyon

As an editor, I see a lot of the same things. If you can avoid these few issues in your work, you'll automatically be a step ahead of the competition.

Here are three of the most common problems I see:

Back-story Dump
Also known as "info dump." This is when the story comes to a screeching halt so we can learn the characters' history, what led up to this moment, and so on. It includes flashbacks, long strings of thought, dialog where characters recap the past (things they already know and likely wouldn't actually say to one another), and so on.

At the beginning of a story, this is a real problem. Back story may be important, although I'm betting it's less important than you think. We really don't want to hear about it in the first chapter. If the reader needs information from the past, tell us in small pieces . . . later.

Point of View Problems
I highly recommend reading Orson Scott Card's book Character and Viewpoint as a primer for learning how point of view works, how to pick the right one, and how to use it well.

Common POV problems I see include head-hopping, picking the wrong POV, having no point of view whatsoever, and having inconsistent POV characterization. POV problems pull the reader out of the story. They can make the narrative confusing. When handled well, POV helps the reader get immersed in the story.

Telling Instead of Showing
Show, don't tell, is such a common piece of advice it's almost cliche, but it's crucial. Telling creates a shallow story with flat characters. Instead of readers feeling and experiencing the story, getting wrapped up into it, they'll remain at a distance, as if reading a summary.

Good showing appears on the sentence and paragraph level (what I call micro showing) and in the overall scene, chapter, and full-length work level (what I call macro showing).

Interestingly enough, back story dumps and POV problems are often also telling problems. If you learn how to avoid these three common weak spots, you'll automatically find yourself knowing how to fix a lot of problems in your work--and avoid them altogether in the future.

1 comment:

Melanie Jacobson said...

I always feel like I have a handle on showing but then I constantly catch myself telling. "He looked tired" etc. It's one of the main things I try to fix on clean up but I know a lot of it still gets away from me. It's that lack of objectivity thing where it's so clear in my own head I'm not really illustrating why character A thinks character B looks tired.

Another problem I see a lot: Overexplaining. I don't know what the technical term for this is, but sometimes I want to say: I GET IT ALREADY. Move on.