Random Fiction Tip #19

Here’s a tip: If you find yourself writing a paragraph in which your character debates with himself about what to do next, cut the paragraph! What’s really going on is, you (the author) haven’t envisioned the next bit of action clearly. You’re letting your own thought process spill onto the page.

So delete the paragraph, make a decision about what’s going to happen, and then write it. The only exception to this procedure would be if the indecision is truly your character’s major conflict and the moment you’re writing about is the moment when it truly comes into conscious focus for him.

If two characters are arguing with one another about what to do next, that’s an entirely different thing. That’s conflict, and conflict is good. Maybe each of them has a strong idea, or maybe one has a strong idea but the other is confused and needs to be convinced, or doesn’t like the idea but is afraid to say so. This type of scene is much to be preferred to a scene where two characters agree with one another. If they agree, there’s no conflict, so just summarize the scene quickly and get on with the important stuff.

One of my secret pleasures is reading Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mysteries. They’re dreadful on so many levels — wooden characters, ridiculous plots, bizarre contrivances, stodgy prose, cultural clichés. But Gardner was a pro: He was awful in a consistent, reliable, highly professional way. (He was also hugely successful. During his career he sold literally 300 million books.)

One of the things Gardner does right is, his hero, dynamic attorney Perry Mason, never hesitates. Mason is never undecided — and in fact Gardner seldom tells the reader what Mason is thinking. Mason just does stuff. What he does may be stupid, or it may be so brilliant that it’s not even faintly believable, but Gardner has worked it all out before he sits down at his typewriter, and bang! Perry Mason is off and running.

Don’t think onto the page.

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3 Responses to Random Fiction Tip #19

  1. Have you ever read Dostoyevsky? What’s your opinion about his works? Just wondering…
    Or Cormac McCarthy or John Fowles…

    Fiction is to literature as snacks are to a meal.

    • midiguru says:

      I’ve never read Dostoevsky, no. Some Fowles when i was younger. Literature is merely a genre of fiction. It may appeal to more refined sensibilities or require closer reading than Mickey Spillane, but that’s not really much of a distinction.

  2. Solid tip! I might actually be doing this, and will have to start being mindful of it. Thanks for this!

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