Wednesday, July 6, 2011
When fishing in a large lake, it's okay to troll for long periods of time. If you don't get a bite, though, it might be a good time to reel in your line and see if you still have bait on the hook. Likewise, in writing a first-person narrative, it's okay to get sidetracked, to go on rants, to have the narrator offer a slew of asides--as long as these diatribes and anecdotes are funny, awe-inspiring, or relevant.
Think of how your grandmother tells a story: You can ask how she's feeling, and she'll go about sixty years backward telling about all the times she's felt better or worse. Finally, she'll get to the point. Do you get frustrated with her? Do you start to space out? So does your reader, unless Grandma's stories are incredibly interesting. It's okay for her to ramble on and on without a point in sight, as long as her voice--the way she tells the stories--remains irresistible. Otherwise, she needs to hurry up and say that she's suffering from gastritis, seeing as that's where she means to be ending up.
After a while, as a writer, you need to remind the reader that the bait's still on the hook, and what the bait's supposed to be attracting.
Pep Talks, Warnings, And Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom And Cautionary Advice For Writers
Wise words from a funny guy.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Singleton at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference two weeks ago and as anyone who attended his craft class, cornered him in conversation at the barbecue dinner, or sat down to read The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars, or These People Are Us can tell you: the man knows how to spin a story. Oh, he'll appear to get sidetracked with rants and asides at times, but he always knows there's a worm or hunk of stinky cheese threaded on the end of his hook.
His "how-to" book on writing, Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, is full of aphorisms of this nature. If you are at all serious about the business of writing, it would behoove you to pick up a copy. And by "behoove," I mean "do it without delay."