August 4, 2014

The Two Rules of Life

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I had good intentions, back in June, of spending more time in the blogging world.  With a year of college and a Maymester behind me, my brain was beginning to turn again to slightly more literary pursuits: notably, blog post ideas and WordcrafterWordcrafter has got on fairly well.  My dad's emergency appendectomy and slow on-going recovery made a hash of the blogging schedule.

Before all that, I sat down and began to write a post on the process of raising questions - and offering answers - in a story.  This has much to do with another item on the summer to-do list that hasn't been struck off: that is, editing the climax of The Running Tide.  I finished this book over two years ago, back in June 2012, and spent a laborious several months editing it into shape, and I continue to be fond (and, let's face it, a little proud) of the end result.  But every completed book gives more perspective, and after bundling Tempus Regina off to a friend for a critical read-through, I noticed a flaw in The Running Tide.  In part, this stemmed from a self-imposed need to answer questions too quickly.

"Who was that character," I mused, "who would never answer a question straight? ...Oh, wait, that was Jesus." 
"That was Jesus," she agreed. 

Questions, of both great and small import, drive a story forward.  This is probably most obvious in romance: Will Jane Bennet get Mr Bingley, or will the Bingley sisters prevail?  Will the prince go on and kiss the girl, or will she - actually, I don't remember the "or will she."  I remember it was something dire.  At any rate, the large questions like these form the backbone of the plot, but smaller questions are constantly arising to add dimension and interest.  Most of these will eventually be answered, but timing, as always, is crucial.  If a question (especially a dramatic one) is answered too soon, the reader feels let down.  They barely even get to be really alarmed before the author (in the form of a character or event) rushes in to inform that no! wait! just kidding, it's all right after all!  They expected more from you.

 If you must answer a plot-question, it is generally best not to do it in the same page - possibly not in the same chapter - possibly not even in the chapter after that.  Keep the reader on his toes.  Leave him guessing with his heart in his throat for a while.  Let him squirm.

Not all questions, however, need to be answered.  In this case a principle of fashion also applies to writing: a little mystery is an invaluable asset.  Not everything needs to be stated.  It is my belief that the best, most memorable books are the ones whose endings do not explain everything,where not all the strings are neatly tied off.  Get the important ones, by all means; don't leave the reader suspicious or confused.  But by allowing some things to remain unanswered, you provoke the reader's imagination and leave him with something to chew on after he has put the book back on the shelf and gone on his merry way. 

there are two rules in life:
1. never give out all the information.

6 comments:

  1. I love this post. It rings with so much of what is true to life as well as our writing - and while I am terrible at the whole dramatic/climax thing and revealing the answers at the right time, being the plotter that I am, I get a sense of throbbing excitement at seeing all those loose threads and realizing when it ought to be tied and when the threads ought to fray in mystical, whimsy questions. . . it's good to have that reminder that we shouldn't spoil the fun for our readers - or ourselves for that matter! And I am totally thrilled and excited for Wordcrafter and The Running Tide series. Can't wait to read them. . .

    By the way, I am glad your dad is getting better. I was very worried when I heard about his surgery, but it is good to hear that he is slowly recovering. Praise the Lord! You are very much in my prayers and thoughts, and I hope things are going well with you and all your family. <3 Lots of love!

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    1. Thank you! We appreciate your concern and prayers. He continues to improve each day, and will be finishing up his six week estimated recovery time pretty soon. He won't be entirely back to normal for months yet, but he's doing very well.

      Writing a good climax is hard. Somehow it always seems much easier, and much better, in one's head: the same with many moments of revelation. Still, I think getting the timing right is at the crux of the solution!

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  2. That's really true! Reminds me of something my favorite author once told me when I asked him about his books. In the Auralia Thread series, the characters only know pieces of the story, some of which are rumors, some of which are true, but the author never comes out and says what is the truth about what really happened in the history of the fantasy world. Jeffrey Overstreet told me it was the same thing with real life, a lot of the time. So many different recounts of what happened in history. Some of what we believe happened didn't really happen but was made up, for example. So we ourselves have to pick apart what is true from what is false.

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    1. This is a very good point, although dangerous if carried too far (as with most good points!). It's helpful in that it reminds us the importance of perspective in presentation. One character in a novel is unlikely to see things in exactly the same way another character would; or one character may not know about a certain fact at all. What is hidden and what is revealed drives the suspense.

      The point only becomes dangerous if you begin to imagine that, because everyone sees things in a slightly different way, we can't understand those things at all. I'm beginning to see that quite a bit already among historians: they have this self-defeating approach that says we can't be sure of anything we read about the past. Such an overemphasis of the subjective really kicks the legs out from any meaningful study of the past - or the present, for that matter. In somewhat the same vein, as the author we do know what is and what is not true in our stories, and we balance that objectivity with the subjectivity of our characters to give a suspenseful, cohesive story.

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  3. THE END. Hahahahaha. I love how your title ties in to the end. Was that original wit or borrowed?

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    1. Alas, borrowed! But half of good writing is learning how to steal artfully, right?

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings






Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing



Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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