Friday, July 30, 2010

Slave to the Story

*reminder to leave a comment by midnight EST tonight on the interview with Maria Snyder
for a chance to win a copy of Inside Out*

I like to critique, especially writers that have gotten the mechanics down and are trying to find the heart of their story. I think that's the key. You have to find the biggest problem, the most emotion-packed part of your idea, and focus on that.

By focus, I mean relate everything to it. Your main conflict has to be the center point that everything else ties to.

My hubby saw the Avatar movie with some friends (husbands of my friends that I went with to see Twilight! I think the guys got the better movie, but that's a different post.) He came back and was telling me about the aliens, that they lived in the trees and had tails.

And I said, 'Why do they have tails? Did their tails 'do' anything?'
He then told me how cool the whole concept was, that the tails were an interface between the aliens and the animals on their planet.

You see, I thought it was just an empty detail. A detail that didn't mean anything except 'Hey. I'm an alien. Look at my tail.'

But it was more. The tail meant "Hey, I'm an alien. I can use my tail to link with the brain of my cool flying beasties and into the soul of the planet. It defines how I relate to the world and explains my deep connection with nature."

See the difference?

Every detail must be a slave to the story. Relationships to other characters need to be shown in relation to the conflict. Don't let your characters get to know each other for ten or twenty pages, then get to the conflict. Start your story on page one, then work in the details around it. Let the reader get to know your characters as they work to stop the giant asteroid falling towards the earth.

Integrate the back story in only when their previous experiences cause them to do something unusual! For example, in Avatar, EVERYTHING we learn about James Sully is necessary to explain why he is on the Navi's planet. He's a soldier, now a parapalegic, whose identical twin brother was killed, and Sully was asked to take his place in the Avatar program. That's all we know about his backstory. The rest of who he is he shows us as he interacts with the Navi.

Not details, but telling details. Details that make us care and have an emotional response to the characters and their situation.

Stick to the story and the reader will stick with you. How do you make sure you're using telling details?


  1. Great advice, Kelly, and another great reason to use critique partners. They're really helpful in helping you see the forest from the trees in your manuscript.

  2. Hmm. "They're really helpful in helping..." Looks like someone needs to invest in a thesaurus... :)

    WORD VERIFICATION: repetins. I kid you not. It's like repetitions with a few vowels left out.

  3. Sometimes when I'm writing things just click into place. Details I've laid out in the first part of the novel come in handy as I'm wrapping up the last half simply because I like to use every detail to explain some aspect of plot or character. It's hard work, but it really makes the story pull together in the end.

    Great topic and post, Kelly!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Krista. It helps me to see you helping yourself spot repetition. I fall in like with words and use them OFTEN. So in a few chapters of PULSE, I used 'intense' about 15 times, then just once in the rest of the book.

    Teresa- thanks for pointing out how intense I was being. Intense is all gone now. And thanks for stopping by.

    Happy writing!