Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing a Novel is a Bit Like Stripping

Hi Readers,

I've written before how I've become a Maddict--someone addicted to the TV show Mad Men.  As a latecomer to the program, I've been trying to catch up on the back episodes before the new season, the fifth one, commences.  I'm about half way through the fourth season and something that happened in the last episode I watched struck me as to why this show is so acclaimed.  It illustrated something that all aspiring writers need to keep in mind.  And that is how to handle back story.

Most fledgling writers fall into the trap of using the "information dump," when in the first chapter they give us everything they know about the character, leaving nothing for the reader to wonder about and compel them to continue reading the book.

For example, the Mad Men episode I watched showed how two of the show's major characters, Don and Roger, initially met and how Don came to work for the advertising firm.  We only learned this bit of back story in the fourth season.  A novice writer, had he or she been writing the the program, might have told us this part of the story at the beginning, when it would have been more effective to reveal it later.

I love John Truby's book Anatomy of Story, where Trudy discusses how key revealing information is to plotting and pacing.  The biggest reveals are saved for last.  You don't find out Darth Vader is Luke's father in the beginning of Star Wars.  (Sorry if you were living under a rock and I spoiled that for you.)  You don't find out that Dorothy has been knocked unconscious until the end of The Wizard of Oz.  You don't find out the meaning of "rosebud" until the end of Citizen Kane.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, when a reader picks up your novel, hopefully questions are raised in your reader's mind--questions that will spur the reader to continue on with your book to get an answer. (Don't forget to answer them.)

Writing a novel is a bit like being a stripper.  What stripper takes to the stage already naked?  No, she peels off the layers, seductively, one at a time--until THE BIG REVEAL.

As writers we must do the same to generate interest and money (hopefully more than a wad of $1 bills stuffed in your G-string!).

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