Monday, July 27, 2020

How Romance Changed Narrative Forever

Back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, romance, outside of category Harlequin romances, was a brand new genre, and the early writers were blasting up the bestseller lists while publishers were scrambling to create their own romance lines. Lots of bad writing was being cranked out because publishers were so desperate for content they'd publish almost anyone.  Then a group of bestselling ladies decided that the romance industry and its writers needed a voice, a place to nurture newer writers, and protection against the publishers and the torch-bearing troglodytes with their chant of "women writers and books for women bad."  RWA was formed.

RWA chapters appeared all over the US, and they taught new writers craft and the business side of publishing careers.  The other major writer organizations didn't have an interest in teaching and nurturing new voices, and the Internet wasn't an option so newer female writers of all genres joined in force and learned how to write vibrant and five-senses prose, fully-defined characters, and a reader experience immersion not found in any other genre.

They took these lessons back to their genres and began to publish.  Their immersive writing, in contrast to the just-the-facts prose of mystery and science fiction, drew in omnivorous female readers who buy a fortune in books every month, as well as readers who expected more from prose experience because of other media.  Publishers and smart writers paid attention because of improved sales and a reader base that was no longer so narrow, and the narrative in most books in most genres changed.

And that is how romance became the mother of the biggest and most successful genre narrative shift in over a hundred years. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Making Info Tidbits Palatable to the Reader

No matter what kind of novel you write, you’ll face the problem of how to share bits of information with your reader.

These bits are minor plot or character clues that the main character and the reader need to know to go forward to a logical conclusion.

Often, these small clues come from different sources, but writing a scene for each bit of information often slows the pace to a crawl.  What to do?

One method is delegation.  Have your character delegate the task of finding out this information to a secondary character who will do it off page.  The secondary character will report back and in one scene present all the necessary information.  This method is often used in mysteries, but it can be just as effective in any genre novel.

The second method is finding a gossip, expert, or reporter who already knows the information.  To make this scene work, make that gossip or expert a bit larger than life, funny, or someone who knows embarrassing things about the main character so the scene is interesting.  

The most important thing to remember when doing this is to make it integral to the novel and to make it a logical choice for the main character to make.

Monday, July 13, 2020

When You Absolutely Must Info Dump

If you absolutely must info dump, here are a few suggestions to make it more palatable for the reader.

Have a character who must learn the information so someone explains it to him.

In Jasper Fforde’s ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING, Thursday Next is in charge of an apprentice who follows her around at her job.  She explains a lot of the technical elements important to the story to this apprentice.  The info dumping isn’t subtle, but it is at least integrated into the scenes, and the give and take between the characters makes the info more digestible.  

A another saving grace is that the apprentice and her knowledge of these technical elements become an important part of the final part of the book.

Never begin info dump dialogue with “As you know.”

Many years ago, this was a prime way to info dump in hard science fiction stories. These days, if someone knows something, they don’t need it explained to them in detail.

If both characters know the information, they can still discuss it.  Here’s how I did it in the opening scene of TIME AFTER TIME, a romance about reincarnation.  The hero and heroine’s guardian spirits are talking.

Celeste's expression softened as if she were trying to reason through a solution to their problem.  "Thinking of all their lives....  It's strange how some of the same patterns and events occur in each one."

Although she knew the answer already, Walter prompted, "They're the same people whatever life they're living.  They need reminders and lessons to reaffirm their strengths and fight their weaknesses."  

Celeste grabbed his wrist.  "That's it, Walter.  A way to give him a will to live.  Remember Gerard?"

In both cases, however, the info dump isn’t massive, just a few paragraphs or pages of explanation.  

I have also seen bits of factual info like diary entries and quotes from other books used, most often at the beginning of each chapter.  Some work, others do not, depending on the reader and the cleverness of the entry.  The biggest disadvantage to this type of info dump is that the reader must pull himself out of the story each time, and that can mean the loss or disinterest of the reader.  

However you info dump be very sure that this is the only way for the story to work, or you risk boring your reader.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Info Dumping is Bad for Your Book's Environment

You have figured out the complex worldbuilding for your novel, and you begin to write your story.

Eagerly, you explain the details of your world and its creatures.  Ten pages in, your main characters still haven’t shown up, or they’ve not done anything to move the story along, but your world is detailed and exciting.

You show your work to your critique partner, and she promptly starts yawning.  

The problem?  Info dumping.

Most inexperienced writers dump a bunch of worldbuilding into the first few chapters, and they don't realize that they are writing it for themselves to get everything straight, not for the reader who doesn't need that much to get into the story.  Most of that worldbuilding should be deleted in the first edit.

To show you how little heavy-duty worldbuilding you need to get into a story, read the first chapter of STAR-CROSSED I’ve posted on my website. 

I’ve put the worldbuilding in bold print. 

The short prologue of sorts sets up the hero's situation, the longer next section sets up the heroine and her world and the deep poo the hero and his best friend have fallen into as well as the heroine's goal for the novel.  

I don't go heavily into the plague and how it changed Arden until evil Cadaran explains that deep poo to Kellen a bit later, but the heavy details aren't needed until then.  Even then, I manage to set up the history in a bit of dialogue, not long narrative.

Next week, I’ll talk about those times when you absolutely, positively must do some info dumping and how to do it without boring your audience.