More Writing from the Tight Rope

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Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert.

 

ThinkingHeadtoBookAh, the joy of discovery moments in a book! Or, the waiting far too long for an “it” to happen you’ve already figured out or anticipated. Ideas discussed here before, and from several perspectives.[i] But a recent book I closed last week prompted me to re-visit and add my two-cents because I think it’s a biggie area for thought. And, another writing tight rope skill/art that requires a tricky balancing act—based on one’s personal predilections, storytelling skills, and the complexity of characters and events. When to let the reader imagine and fill in, even arrive at a scene or plot conclusion on their own–versus when you need to supply more clues and details for them to know what’s happening?

On one side of the balancing act—the book I‘m referring to and closed before finishing, was abandoned because I kept finding myself saying, huh? What the heck is going on? And in some cases going back to see if I missed something.

Then there were several recently read books, where I’ve said, out loud even, “I get it already! Move on…” The most recent examples, unfortunately were in my own latest WIP, as I do my slow-going first rewrite. Some authors are sort of long-winded (smile). I can’t pile up too much praise for editors. Still remembering one of my earliest manuscripts, and my editor mentioning how I’d gone on far too long in a suspenseful sequence—with words I don’t remember exactly, but similar to–the reader figured that out two pages back.

And for a little different twist on the topic: a book club member friend shared that her granddaughter in her writing had two characters in a scene/situation she was having difficulty getting them out of. Her solution…she ended the scene there, and moved on, letting the reader figure it out. Brilliant, I thought at the time. Especially since I had the same occurrence happen in my current WIP. And following the lead of this young writer—I moved on.

I personally read on three fronts—audio (especially for classics), paper often for my book club selection, and Kindle eBook if it’s a book I’m thinking I want to have on hand in the doctor’s office. If you’re listening to an audio book, those reader “I got it already” overuses pop right out when a narrator is speaking the words. The main one that my ear often catches in audio books, is the overuse of a character’s name.

balancingActBut then again, balancing again, reminding a reader of a character’s name is often very helpful. But when and how many times?—I’m hoping to improve in that area. This balancing act, I think, is a training of my ear thing. As a reader, on the other side of this tightrope, are the situations where I’ve had to go back to earlier book sections and find the person’s name—especially if they have a title, and both have been used. The same wise editor advised, if you’ve got your POV straight in the telling, your reader is in your character’s head and there’s no need to repeat, repeat, repeat.

So to share my own nugget of writing practice here—I try putting myself in the shoes of a movie director in the splicing room. As I’m rewriting/editing, my book becomes like a movie I’m watching/putting together on the splicing machine (or whatever it’s technically called). And I have available to me, close ups, long shots, predominantly character dialogue scenes, actor narrative or emoting scenes, and setting/scenery shots I need to cut and paste in good storytelling order–and length. The main objective—to give the reader enough info and pictures to enjoy the happenings without wondering who’s who, and what’s what—while at the same time not spilling the beans until the appropriately placed dénouement scene.[ii] Splicing the right scenes, with the right dialogue and narration mix, and in the right order—is not always easy or obvious.

I always keep in mind Eudora Welty, who[iii] professed to cutting her paper work into paragraphs which she would move around to get in the order she wanted. With her process in mind, and as a final thought; in my little word processing world, I’m taking more and more of my “moving around” paragraphs to the electronic trash bin.

Happy continued “tightrope-walking” writing trails!


[i] For one recent example, see G. B. Pool’s excellent post a couple weeks back The Devil’s in the Details with very practical advice in these areas, and much more.

[ii] I sometimes talk to the TV (a habit I learned from my husband) invariably complaining about things that don’t happen in a scene, or telling the actors to, “get on with it.”

[iii] Conversations with Eudora Welty, by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw, pgs 244-and on.

23 thoughts on “More Writing from the Tight Rope”

  1. Good piece, Madeline. Writing is definitely like walking a tightrope. But luckily with computers we don’t have to cut and paste pieces of paper anymore. I remember doing that: Not fun.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Paul. Yes, I so often feeling like I’m on a tightrope–a little more of “this” or less of “that”(smile) For me, computers were my big enabler. Have a really hard time with paper, thought electric typewriters were marvelous–then along came decent word processors. I so much admire and respect all who have come before me. who with only pen and paper have created such great works!

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  2. Madeline, a veritable feast for thought, and being a glutton in many respects I am extremely thankful for your offering, enabling a gobbling-up of the full gourmet meal. You also reminded me that writers create, re-write, edit, and curse so differently over a WIP. What works for one is anathema for another. Imagine us all on different-colored tightropes…Thank you for clarifying some points I had long pondered. And, as Marks notes, hallelujah for computers!

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  3. Thanks for an excellent post, Madeline. What you’ve said definitely contains items a writer should keep in mind to keep that story moving and readers engaged.

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    1. Yes, Linda, and sometimes there’s so much to keep in mind and we just have to forget it all and just write! It’s in the editing/rewriting when I’m usually tight-rope walking!

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  4. What lovely imagery, Jill! “…all on different-colored tightropes…” I can see it, all trying to stay in balance and produce the best piece of work we can. And so appreciative my post was interesting for you–I’m always wondering if my meandering have anything in them for anyone but myself! Thank you, so much. I plan to be on the tightrope today–rewriting/editing/balancing….

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  5. I have found one very good tool to use after those first few edits we writers go through. I listen to the book with the Text to Speech feature in WORD. It’s an older version, but maybe some of the new ones have it. There is nothing like having your words read back to you by a totally impartial observer… the computer. It says only what’s one the page and you hear it, mistakes and all. If you get lost in the story, just think what the reader will be doing if you publish without adjusting the balance on that tightrope. You are so right that we need to view those words fro a different perspective and see where we are loosing our balance.

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  6. You are so so right, Madeline. I talk to the TV all the time: “Oh, sure that would happen”, “Why are you going there with no weapon or light when you know there is a bad guy lurking” and recently in the Bird Box I absolutely couldn’t believe the conclusion–it has to do with the name of the movie.

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    1. Oh yes, Marilyn, I think it says a lot about a show/movie when I(and or hubby) watch right through and don’t say anything. Means they caught and held our interest! And then for endings–they can make or break the memory I carry of the show–good or bad. Then as you know as a PSWA member/conference attender (smile), if there’s a police activity, or weapon, or forensics, or emergency scene–so often there’s a lot of license taken.

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    1. So agree, Patricia, and the more we learn, the more we realize what still needs to be learned. It’s a great thing in the long run, I think, about writing. Always learning–and balancing (smile) Thank you for stopping by.

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  7. Very interesting post, Madeline. Sometimes I think the tightrope is too wobbly for me. I particularly like the part about the overuse of names. It annoys me when a name is constantly repeated in dialogue. I can understand trying to demonstrate who’s talking, but actually IN the dialogue bothers me. Anyway, excellent post and food for thought.

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    1. Tell me about the wobbly part!!! And I also get annoyed by constant name tags. Listing to an audio book now by a famous author who does that. I’m ignoring because there’s so much I like about the story and writing. Thanks for stopping by, and I really identified with your post on research–https://marjamcgraw.blogspot.com/2019/01/hows-your-credibility.html?showComment=1548263914414#c5994581609178332052 especially since I’ve created a town… Have to get a lot of stuff right!

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  8. Thank you, Jackie, for your kind and encouraging words. The ear thing is easy when it comes to the writing of others–but when it comes to my own writing, I hear what I want to hear!(smile)

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  9. Great post, I think we’ve all read books like the ones you describe. But getting away from the subject of other author’s writing, one thing I never do is put my “moving around” paragraphs in the electronic trash bin. I move them to a file I call, “Cut Paragraphs,” because sometimes they come in handy in case I want to use them, with a few tweeks, in a different novel.

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  10. Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking post. Like many, I struggle with the ‘is it enough or is it too much’ dilemma, both as a writer and as a (too often) frustrated reader. In my mentoring classes I advise students to always consider what will serve the story – move it forward or illustrate character. Readers do add to the dilemma, though. Some want what I call ‘oil paintings’ with every little detail and nuance spelled out in long languid sentences. Others prefer a ‘sketch’ with crisp minimal prose so they can fill in the blanks. Bottom line: you can’t please everyone, so write (and read) in the style you prefer.

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    1. Really like the “oil painting” analogy, Miko. I’m some where in-between oil painting and sketch it out when it comes to what I like to read. And I think I’m trying for that middle-ground in my writing–but I’ll have to think about where I actually fall out as a writer…definite food for thought as I do my current rewrite.

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  11. We never stop learning and honing our craft. I’ve used the text-to-recognition feature in word and also read my work out loud. Both are great tools for catching errors and flow problems, but the former is in such a monotone that I fall asleep! When you mentioned solving a problem in getting out of a scene by just “leaving” that reminded me of a recent conversation with an author who insisted that authors needed to show how someone gets from one place to another (like to the airport, or wherever). I disagree and feel that the reader can fill in the blanks. Exception is if the transition is important to the story.

    As for typewriters—that’s one bit of nostalgia I don’t miss. I’m sure I wouldn’t be a writer if I had to use one of those horrid things!

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  12. Thanks for stopping by, Maggie. You always have good thoughts that add to whatever discussion is going on. I remember taking typing in summer school during high school time (must have been traumatic if I still remember) I wasn’t in the bottom of the class, but close. Word processing on a computer is a most marvelous thing to me! What a great writer enabler. I’m also in your camp when it comes to getting from one place to another–unless that journey is the point of the story? In my current WIP a couple characters travel from Illinois to Shine’ and the method of their traveling is important, but the details of the journey, like you, I think readers can figure that out.

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  13. Much food for thought there, Mad. I find myself less and less lately patient when I’m reading something that doesn’t move along at the right pace – or if the writer conversely makes it so obvious who-dunnit that it’s no challenge. And, yes, I also talk aloud to the TV – and to the book I’m reading! Great post!

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