Monday, September 17, 2007

Keep the Story Linear and Interesting, Stupid, and Other Writers Facing the Problem

Looks like I'm not alone. Other writers have faced the problem that I brought up yesterday. You know, the problem of telling the story of one or many events from more than one point of view and trying to communicate the power of each consciousness as it adds to the meaning of the story. . .all without boring the reader with redundancies.

The very recently late Robert Jordan had a similar self-criticism with his book Crossroads of Twilight. As written in his blog:

The only thing that I wish I hadn’t done was use the structure that I did for CoT, with major sections beginning on the same day. Mind, I still think the book works as it is, but I believe it would have been better had I taken a more linear approach. When you try something different, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Apparently, Samuel Richardson had a similar problem in his book, Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady. Ian Watt, in his book The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Field, writes:
The use of two parallel series of letters, then, has great advantage, but it presents considerable difficulties; not only because many of the actions have to be recounted separately and therefore repetitively, but because there is a danger of dispersing the reader's attention between two different sets of letters and replies.

As I write in the novel, especially from the perspective of the one character who has surveillance capabilities, I find myself just re-writing a lot of previous scenes, just a lot more straight, succinctly and with this character's reactions to them. . .which really aren't much of any reaction. It doesn't feel like I'm writing anything particularly original for this character, and he can't just be cut. He's pretty important for many reasons. . ..

I had mostly just been thinking about the audience's attention and how they might find it annoying to dredge through descriptions of things that they've already read about.

Not much had entered my mind about having their attentions dispersed amongst the different characters. I really only have a set of four, kind of five, main characters, and they all interconnect and become part of a large, overall plot. Honestly, I think the ways in which they're connected might become pretty obvious half way through the second chapter. OK, OK. . .maybe there's up to six main characters, since the city-society really is a character, in itself.

I guess there is a fair amount of stuff going on, though. There's probably enough between all the characters that having repetitive parts of the story and having the time element out of whack might cause the reader to spend too much time trying to figure out where the other characters are while this one character is doing this or that.

Writing the novel with the idea of having the story coming across as linear will probably help to keep things straight for the reader. There will be a lot of jumping around and probably some confusion during those hops, but I think that temporary confusion will be a lot easier to handle than the cognitive load of having to think, "OK, character A is here while character B is there and C is all the way over there and character D is planning to slap character A upside the head and yell at character B, but character A doesn't know what the problem is. C is on the other side of the world, though, providing the original cause that makes these other characters react this way."

In the long run, it's a pretty straight forward story. The main problem just comes from the fact that the power of the story mainly comes from the characters having realistic personalities that the readers get to know, love and/or hate and how they all interact with each other. I guess something similar could come across if the story just gets told by one character, but I don't think it would be as powerful. . .so I'm writing it the way I am now.

Oh. . .how very modern.

Why have I gone and written these complicated stories when I'm just starting out as an aspiring writer? What am I thinking?

BTW, today was one of those annoying days where I just wanted to get home and write, but when I got home, I procrastinated because I had all this pent up resentment built up about the things holding me back from writing. So annoying. . ..

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