I’ve reached one of those parts of a rewrite where I’m confronted with the literary version of Sleeping Beauty’s forest of thorns. What I mean is, the story has changed so much since the initial draft, that I’m having to scrap whole scenes and start again.
I’m changing the viewpoint scenes are told from, the events, the reactions to these events, even the names of the places where the events occur. It’s brutal. It’s not like the endorphin rush of writing a first draft.
I know where these characters are heading – the sequel has been drafted and the third book has been plotted, the fourth is at the idea stage. The characters no longer have infinite possibilities before them, they have to go through certain changes in book one, and I have to get them there.
Narrative or info dump?
Narrative isn’t a bad thing. It’s needed to convey information concisely. In the first draft I had a tendency to write a page of dialogue, when a paragraph of narrative may have done the job better.
Narrative also acts as a bridge between two scenes, rather than describing the walk your characters take from one scene location to another- which, if it doesn’t advance the plot in any other way will just be dull – you can write a few lines of narrative.
Exposition, or info dumping, is when the writer just tells the reader what’s happening, or spends paragraphs describing the history that led these characters to this place.
“Exposition is information the reader needs to know but it doesn’t contribute to the forward momentum of moving the story along. Narrative is information the reader needs to know (for what is happening at the time to make sense to the reader) and does contribute to the forward momentum of moving the story along to some degree.” Vicki Hinze
In his book, Revision and Self-Editing, James Scott Bell says that telling is lazy. I know this to be true because it’s bloody hard work to try and get a page of telling into a paragraph of narrative. Bell has also made me realise that:
- the reason nineteenth century literature bores me to tears is because many of the celebrated books of that time feature an awful lot of telling.
- it’s okay not to show everything that happens – that’s exposition, rather than narrative. The reader doesn’t need to know what plants are in the garden unless the lavender bush plays a pivotal role in the plot.
Developing as a writer
I’ve been through distinct stages in my development as a writer:
- Tell- tell it all: I have pages of exposition in draft one of the first book.
- Telling is bad, therefore, all narrative is bad: I tried to rewrite to eliminate everything that resembled telling, which resulted in pages of dialogue as I tried to convey a brief point, followed by confusion as I realised that there is a difference between narrative and exposition.
- The struggle to find the balance: this is where I am now.
In the 11 years since I completed the first draft of book one, I’ve become a copywriter, read countless books, and spent many hours finding out as much as I could about the craft of fiction writing.
It’s natural to look at something that needs a lot of work and think, “hmmm I still haven’t watched any of The Walking Dead after than unfortunate horse chewing scene…I really should do that first”, but you’re the only one who can make the story happen. Sometimes you just need to find a bloody big sword and cut through that forest of thorns.