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November 3, 2009 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – Stop Butting In!

Professor Old SillyWelcome back to blog class – please have a seat, adjust your monitors, turn off your cell phones or put them on vibrate, and we’ll get English composition class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction” – session two started. The title of today’s tutorial is-

Stop Butting In

Having a strong and unique voice is considered a good quality in an author. It is one of those intangibles that keeps readers coming back for more. But novice authors often have a rookie habit of ‘butting in’ to the story to interject their own thoughts and/or information. It can be a jarring disruption to the story line. Here is an example:

John walked past the flowering shrubs, enjoying the smell. Forsythias are what he was smelling; they are indigenous to Southeast Michigan. He spotted Mary standing next to the water fountain, walked up to her and said, “Hi, Mary.”

Mary’s face lit up as she said, “Oh, hi, John, long time.”

~~~~~

See how the second sentence is just stuck in there? Well, of course you noticed, silly, since I highlighted it in bold red. But notice how it stops the story’s forward motion. I mean who said that? John didn’t say it. The author paused the story’s movement to toss in a fact. It is better to deliver information by letting the characters do the talking – like this:

John walked past the flowering shrubs, enjoying the familiar smell. He spotted Mary standing next to the water fountain, walked up to her, and said, “Hi, Mary.”

Mary’s face lit up as she said, “Oh, hi, John, long time. Mmm, what is that lovely scent in the air?”

“Forsythias. They grow all over this part of the state.”

***

Here’s another example, one right out of a manuscript I recently edited:

Mark, the Attorney General Prosecutor, took his turn to speak. He assured the judge that the Texas Department of Public Safety, a division of the Texas Rangers, was part of the investigation. He also said his office was coordinating with the Rangers, and that pre-coordination had been made with the adjoining county to prosecute the case. This is what the Texas Local Code provides for if the case is against the District Attorney. He stated for the record that if Byar County failed to respond to the charges, the Attorney General Office was prepared to assume prosecution responsibilities.

~~~~~

The bold red sentence, and that’s how it stuck out to me when I first read it, is this author spouting off his knowledge of Texan judicial procedure. Nice that he’s done his research, but no need to stop the story dead while he imparts his vast, personal knowledge. And the fix is easy. Read it rewritten like this:

Mark, the Attorney General prosecutor, took his turn to speak. He assured the judge that the Texas Department of Public Safety, a division of the Texas Rangers, was part of the investigation. He also said his office was coordinating with the Rangers, and that pre-coordination had been made with the adjoining county to prosecute the case. He cited the Texas Local Code which provides for such relocation if the case is against the local District Attorney. He stated for the record that if Byar County failed to respond to the charges, the Attorney General Office was prepared to assume prosecution responsibilities.

***

Now the information is seamlessly woven into the story, with the author nicely ‘butting out’. With this minor adjustment, his character is able to deliver the information within the performance of the scene. And that is what this lesson on the craft of good writing in a novel is all about … let your characters do the talking.

Wasn’t that exciting, class? Class?

bored students cropped

Quirky Loon! Young lady, wake up! Don’t you have an Adam Atom post you’re supposed to have up today?

Sigh, okay, that’s it for today, please leave your comments on my desk, and –

Oh!

Before you go, all of you Adam Atom fans … remember that yesterday’s post, the first half of a two part episode, is concluding today at The Quirky Loon Blog. Well I hope so at least – if she prayerfully got it done before falling asleep here in my class. Quirky’s version of an Adam Atom post episode promises to be quite – erm, well … quirkerly and delightferly different than the Old Silly’s, and an experience you do not want to miss, trust me on this one. She really is a talented writer, in spite of what you’ve witnessed here today in terms of her – ahem … less-than-scholarly-diligent manners. So g’on over to her (click here) blog and get a load of an Adam Atom eposide Quirkster style for yourself!

Okay really now, blog dismissed. Ahm, Quirky – please see me after class?

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24 Comments

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  1. Ron Berry / Nov 3 2009 6:04 am

    I’ve seen few examples of the writer injected into text, but it’s out there someplace. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I’ve put, in brackets, [From the narrator] or something similar, into my kritter stories.

  2. Stanley Berber / Nov 3 2009 8:14 am

    Interesting. Never paid attention to that before but I see the point. Good, clear tutorial, old silly. Now I gotta go see what’s up with Adam Atom!

  3. L. Diane Wolfe / Nov 3 2009 8:34 am

    Those lines seem obvious now!

  4. Cactus Annie / Nov 3 2009 8:52 am

    Very clear tutorial, Marv. I’ve read books where the author uses “too much” of his/her own voice and it can get annoying.

  5. Barbra Kelser / Nov 3 2009 10:13 am

    I love these writing tutorials. Even though I’m not a writer, I get a lot out of them and it’s interesting to KNOW why some books read better than others.

  6. Karen Walker / Nov 3 2009 10:48 am

    Yes, these tutorials are very helpful,Marvin. Thanks. You are too too funny!
    karen

  7. yvonne lewis / Nov 3 2009 10:56 am

    Excellent lesson sir, have got a wee bit behind with my homework (comments)
    will catch up with Adam later.

    Yvonne.

  8. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Nov 3 2009 11:38 am

    Such a good point, Marvin. That’s exactly what it seems like to me—that these authors are showing off and being a smarty-pants. Maybe I’m just jealous because they have more time for research than I do, but it does seem like a know it all thing to me. It’s definitely not slipped in seamlessly.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • theoldsilly / Nov 3 2009 11:47 am

      Yes, that’s how it nettles me as well, Elizabeth – it’s usually a case of ego-driven writing and/or a combination of really not knowing how to write in information within the story line. Glad you appreciated the post. 🙂

  9. John Standish / Nov 3 2009 11:55 am

    fine tutorial post, Marv. I can see the difference and how it works better quite clearly the way you explained it. Now I have to find out what happened to our Atomic Hero!

  10. Helen Ginger / Nov 3 2009 12:44 pm

    Checking to make sure you, the author, are not interjecting yourself into the story is definitely something to look for in the edit phase. Thanks for the tutorial, Marvin.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

  11. Marcus Franks / Nov 3 2009 1:08 pm

    Yeah I agree – an author who interjects his/her voice too much is getting in the way of a smooth read. Good subject and well detailed explanation, Prof Old Silly! 😉

  12. Elspeth Antonelli / Nov 3 2009 3:43 pm

    Nicely done, Old Silly! I understand the time it takes to research a subject but I can’t stand having it shoved up into my face. I can figure out the writer did the necessary work, or has the necessary knowledge without them blowing their own trumpets.

    Elspeth

    • theoldsilly / Nov 3 2009 4:34 pm

      LOL, I hardly said it better myself, Elspeth!

  13. kerrycharacters / Nov 3 2009 4:20 pm

    Sigh. Thanks for the good advice – just forced me to cut swathes of butting-ins from my writing today. I have to say it improves it though.

    • theoldsilly / Nov 3 2009 4:35 pm

      Ah, I’m sure you’re not having to go to too much trouble (wink) – I just visited your blog and that story you’re writing is VERY well done! 😉

  14. Crystal Clear Proofing / Nov 3 2009 5:02 pm

    Interesting topic, Marvin! Interjections like that definitely stop the FLOW of a story!

  15. Patricia Stoltey / Nov 3 2009 5:17 pm

    Yep, author intrusion bad! There’s nothing worse than reading a great story and all of a sudden getting jerked back to reality because the author has inserted the world’s most beautiful sentence right in the middle of the action or dropped in his observation about a character’s behavior. Good post.

    • theoldsilly / Nov 3 2009 5:35 pm

      Thanks Patricia – yeah that “jerking” motion is MOST unsavory in a read, eh?

  16. quirkyloon / Nov 3 2009 5:31 pm

    Quirky: So what are you saying?

    Quirky: Are you talking to me?

    Quirky: Yes, I do “quiero” Taco Bell.

    Am I “talkin” ’nuff now? hee hee

    • theoldsilly / Nov 3 2009 5:34 pm

      Well! We finally woke up, did we? Hmph. ALMOST was better when you were asleep! (wink, not really please don’t throw a taco at me)

  17. Stephen Tremp / Nov 3 2009 6:14 pm

    Great post, Marvin. I’ve learned to do a lot of my own editing bedofe sending off my manuscript to my editor. I know to combine sentences or eliminate them completely that can be stoppers in and of themselves. When in doubt, take it out” is my moto.

    Stephen Tremp

    • theoldsilly / Nov 3 2009 6:22 pm

      Good motto! I’m a Stephen King disciple when it comes to prose, and in his “On Writing” book he says that during the self-editing phase a ms should be reduced by AT LEAST 10% – cut the fat and get to the meat of the story.

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