Friday, August 29, 2008

Moving them around

Jwhit said: "At the beginning of your post you mention that moving a person around is needed, but I've received crits that suggest those stage directions aren't necessary and slow down the story pace. Thoughts?"

I guess I say... you need as much as you need. :) The reader needs to know when movement has taken place, when there's been some change in position. It is disconcerting to be inside and suddenly outside. (Of course, in a deepish POV, that can be fun.
(Long introspective passage, then--) Sarah glanced about and realized she was outside. When did that happen?

But unless the action is important (like in a fight scene), you don't have to choreograph every step. That's why I say to go for "inclusive" terms, usually in the predicate, which are describing progressive action(She crossed the street) and adverbs like "as" or "while" that indicate continuing minor action while something more major (like thinking or talking) is taking place (As he scrubbed the pot, he remembered restoring the Sistine Chapel...).

I dread to say this, but it's all in the context. :) That is, the purpose of the passage and what else is going on will determine the depth of detail about minor action. But the reader does need SOMETHING, especially since every single reader you have will have grown up on film and tv and needs some visual verbal marker of setting and elapsed time and the character IN the setting. I recently critiqued a manuscript that was dialogue and introspection, almost nothing else, and I was so alienated -- I couldn't believe these characters were anything more than words on paper, because they obviously didn't exist anywhere else. You don't want that. They need to touch base with the environment. And I think if you can get INTO their bodies and minds as you write, you'll feel more where that base-touching needs to be. Then if critiquers say it's too much, cut back on the in-between details and use the more inclusive terminology, and heck, describe it in the POV character's way. If he is determined to get to the front of the crowd, but people keep stopping him, the obstruction would be uppermost in his mind. He wouldn't be able to think about existential matters as he shouldered through the crowd-- he'd have to pay attention to his surroundings and his movement therein. So the narrative should probably follow that at least enough to give the reader a flavor of it, and then use a narrative bridge (if you get bored with shoulder, intrusive person, more shoulder), like "It was another five minutes of cordial intrusions before he finally got to the stage." That shows the passage of time AND the passage through space without too much detail.

What experience should the reader have? If you want it to feel like the character's, try to replicate the character's experience of this moment or series of moments. But we all zone out on our experiences, we all remember the highlights and not the boring stuff, we all summarize when we're retelling. So you can do that... as long as the reader doesn't get jarred, or gets jarred only as much as the character.
He looked around and noticed that he was in California. How'd that happen? Last thing he remembered, he was leaving Vegas, and he'd just put on the White Album CD. He'd forgotten how long that album was. Catchy tunes too. He wondered how fast he'd been driving.
Show the journey the way the character experiences it, I guess? Try that. When the character is concentrating on every step, concentrate. If the character is moving automatically, show that too. But show it somehow-- don't just not narrate the change in time and place. That's disconcerting.
And always be ready to cut back in edit. You'll be a lot more into the process of the scene when you read it over, and have more of a sense of what the reader needs. Just focus on cutting away the extraneous, the pedantic, the picky (unless that's important somehow, like you need to be picky here to bury some clue in all the detail).


green_knight said...

I much prefer action to stage direction to speech tags. By action I mean the characters doing something meaningful while talking (which you can intersperse with description). Stage directions, as long as they don't slip into 'he nodded, she shrugged' are useful, too. 'He said,' to me, is just as annoying as 'she postulated' - I like my speech tags to have variety, and I prefer is if there aren't many of them.

I went through a phase of nodding heads, which *did* solve the talking heads problem, but not in any useful fashion.

Edittorrent said...

The action tag that most annoys me is the hand through hair one:

"I'm going home." He ran his hand through his hair. "See you later."

I can't help but envision a roomful of characters with bedhead.

I also don't like that eyebrow-quirk one. I much prefer what you are saying-- give him something to do, and have him do it while he's talking.
"I'm going home." He shoved the M-16 into his satchel. "See you later."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation, Alicia. Very helpful. I reviewed someone's piece this morning who had people moving back and forth in a house and just 'walking around again'. I pointed that one out to that person and suggested he act it out to see if he could physically replicate the action. I'm learning! LOL

And for nodding and shaking heads, it's an easy one to fall into. At least it's not: Sam agreed. ??? Talk about telling!

have a good weekend!

Edittorrent said...

I always overuse shrugging. My characters look like they have bursitis in the shoulder, they shrug so much. :)

And I also have "Sam agreed," but as an alternative to my "Sam nodded."

Sam sort of looks like a bobble-headed doll!

But his hair is NEVER ruffled!