Terry started his Up Around the Corner blog back in June of 2009 and has been going strong ever since.
There's depth to Terry's reservoir of insight when it comes to the craft of writing. The post he so kindly provided today is a perfect example.
Please give Terry an awesomely enthusiastic welcome!
Trust the Reader
One concern I have with writers who are working on their first novel is their lack of willingness to trust the reader. In my experience this mistrust manifests in three ways: Introductory prologues, controlling descriptions, and too many point of view characters.
My first point isn't that prologues are bad and should be avoided. Like every other literary technique or device, prologues have a proper use and place. However, when a writer justifies his historical prologue saying, "The readers need the cultural background and history to contextually understand what will happen later in the novel, and why," I am concerned. Or when a writer says, "If I don't introduce the readers to this event that's outside the main storyline, they won't understand what drives the characters, especially when they do ________," I think the writer is misjudging the cognitive ability of his readers.
The trick is to provide what readers need to know as the story progresses, and trust those readers to piece things together. Will every reader get it? Maybe not. But isn't it worth that, "Ahha" moment (or moments) when a reader pieces it together on his own? I believe the readers will think so.
My second concern is a writer that's too controlling of the reader in their descriptions. What I mean is a writer who describes a character all the way down to the number of gray whiskers in his stubbly beard. The writer wants the readers to see the characters exactly as the writer imagines them. Another example is a writer trying to describe a gruesome murder scene down to the exact angle or degree the rickety-handled, eight-inch, chipped, stainless steel, made in China meat cleaver hacks into the victim's shoulder as she (...) to how far, to the nearest quarter of an inch, the nineteen globular droplets of blood fly and land, and in what splatter pattern, after the cleaver is yanked out.
Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit--but not by much.
Trust the readers' imaginations. The writer should give his readers just enough description to stimulate their imagination. For example: As a female protagonist enters the classroom, she might note her assigned lab partner's piercing green eyes, a strong jaw, shoulders of a linebacker and his ratty, garage sale-rejected tweed jacket. Let the mind's eye of each reader fill in the rest. When they do, they'll better remember and relate to the characters. With the murder scene, the readers' imagination--what frightens them and how they envision it--will go farther than any series of words a writer might provide. Each reader will see, in their mind's eye, the cleaver and the blood splattering, if given enough to go on. Will each reader imagine the exact same thing? No. But it allows each reader to have some ownership of the story.
It's a delicate balance. How to get it right? A writer should read and study passages from his or her favorite authors. See how they did it, and why it worked. Then, modify what's learned to the individual writer's writing style and apply it to the current writing project.
My final concern is inserting too many POV characters into a novel. Sometimes multiple POV characters are necessary. But, if the reasons are so that readers can understand what's happening from a host of perspectives to get a well-rounded view, and readers needs to know the thoughts and motivations of every character important to the plot to understand actions taken, then the writer might consider rethinking his reasoning.
Trust the readers to pick up on character motivations and how that character views events compared to another character in the novel, without having to be explicitly shown. Consider that every reader--every human being--exists in a first person POV world. Most become adept at interpreting the thoughts and motivations of others, and looking at something from another's perspective without benefit of knowing their exact thoughts. So authors can count on readers to bring that ability to the table when reading a novel.
Yes, there are plenty of valid reasons to use omniscient POV or multiple third person limited POVs. I've read novels where there are a dozen or more POV characters. Harry Turtledove's World War Series would be an example. The reason to add POVs should not be a failure to reasonably trust that readers can figure out things like character motivation.
In the end, readers:
- Actively engaged in a story, forming the characters, world and action in their mind's eye
- Following characters and events, guessing and forming theories about why someone did something and what the other fellow might do next in response (and put it all together)...
Or, as a writer, that's how I see it.
About Terry W Ervin II:
|Terry W. Ervin II is awesome!|
While Fiction Factor has published the majority of Terry's articles on writing, his short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies, magazines and ezines. The genres of his stories have ranged from science fiction and fantasy to horror and inspirational.
In late 2009 Gryphonwood Press published Terry's debut fantasy novel FLANK HAWK and recently released the second in the First Civilization's Legacy series, BLOOD SWORD.
To learn more about his writing endeavors or contact Terry, visit his:
Blog: Up Around the Corner
Unofficial Facebook Fan Page for the First Civilization's Legacy Series, Flankers
Flank Hawk Main Page, Book Trailer and Audiobook
Flank Hawk Sales Outlets:
Barnes and Noble
Blood Sword Sales Outlets: