It’s Always the Story

So, I haven’t actually started reading Welcome to Temptation yet, but one of these days, one of these days. In the meantime, I’ve been glancing in on Jennifer Crusie’s blog, and thanks again to Hanneke for the link.

Here’s a post from earlier this year that I like a lot: It’s always the story

I think every reader picks up a book of fiction and thinks, “Tell me a story.”

Not “give me beautiful writing” or “give me the psychological profile of a character” or “describe a setting vividly” or “dazzle me with a theme.” All of those things are good and to be hoped for, but the overarching need of most readers who deliberately choose fiction is “Give me a story.”

I came to this conclusion while reading the opening page of a BookBub offering. (I learn a lot from BookBub samples.)

The page in question was beautifully written in the first person, but it was losing me in the first paragraphs. They were set-up/introduction and again beautifully written but skim-able. And then she told me a story, just a short memory, and I read every word, it was riveting. Then the narrative went back to set-up, and I closed the sample.

This reminds me of my recent reaction to the prologue from Changer of Days. I was strongly repelled by the pov character, but secondarily displeased by starting in the aftermath of a terrible but context-free battle. Context-free battles are my second-least-favorite type of prologue (the first is a history lesson prologue). This post by Crusie reminded me of that because of the contrast to the prologue in The Mask of Mirrors by MA Carrick (Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms).

Because THAT prologue is a story, not a history lesson, not context-free anything. A story. And it’s fine. I don’t mind a bit that it’s a prologue. This is why I’m not in favor of advice such as “don’t write prologues.” I dislike all proscriptive writing advice anyway because all of it is garbage and the thing about never writing a prologue is just as garbagy as the rest. What a prologue has to do in order to work is tell the reader a story rather than provide setup.

I’m not really reading Mask of Mirrors just yet, btw. I like the part I’ve read, but I’m mostly reading Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair, which I don’t like particularly, which makes it useful right now because I’m mostly focusing on my own work and don’t really want to get enthralled by someone else’s novel.

Oh, while on the subject of my own work, I finished smoothing out the draft of the final Black Dog novella this morning as well as I can without substantive feedback. So I’ve finally sent that off to be critiqued. If I don’t get it back for a bit, that’s fine, as I will now hit revisions for the other three Black Dog novellas. I would like to have those ready to start the proofreading process by January 1, so we’ll see.

Also, the long novella featuring physician dedicat Suelen Haras Soyauta is now closer to 150 pp than 130 pp. And not quite finished. But nearly. I’m setting that aside until I’ve got the Black Dog novellas in shape to start proofreading.

My new proofreading process, by the way:

  1. Get a paper copy and proofread it myself.
  2. Get a new paper copy and let my mother proofread it.
  3. Get a new paper copy and proofread it myself again.
  4. Send it out to the two of you who have the most amazing knack for proofreading.

Keraunani is now on step 4, so we’ll see how that works. My actual, real goal is for the final proofreaders to find nothing whatsoever to query except maybe the occasional comma.

Back to the idea that it’s always the story: Yes.

Jennifer Crusie goes on:

But, the author says, I need that stuff in there or the story won’t make sense. Well, maybe.

First of all, is it really needed? I don’t need to know why somebody feels the way they do going back to their childhood days; I just need to know that she feels it in the now. I don’t need to know to why the protagonist and antagonist are being lousy to each other, I just need to see it in the now of the story...

Eventually, of course, some of that stuff is going to be necessary. So you keep the explanation in the now; that is, somebody in the story needs to know that information, so they ask. The key here is “needs to know.” As in, there’s a pressing reason to ask. Maybe they’re being attacked, so one character turns to another and says, “What the hell? Who are these people?” Maybe one character has a complete meltdown, and the other character hands her a Kleenex and says, “What the hell? Explain what triggered this so it doesn’t happen again.” The “what the hell?” part of this is what pushes the question: I need to know this now.

I have in fact seen reviews that make it clear that some readers do want infodumps. However, basically, I’m with Crusie here. I hate infodumps and I suspect the majority of readers feel the same way. I’m uncomfortable putting more than a couple of paragraphs (short paragraphs, preferably) of backstory anywhere in a novel. One of the things I specifically asked when I sent off the last Black Dog novella just a few minutes ago was, Is there way too much introspection at the beginning? We’ll see, but I feel like there is and I will be thinking of how to cut that down without losing the necessary foreshadowing.

Meanwhile, good post, and by all means click through and read the whole thing.

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