Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Random Writing Tip of the Day

On the road to my little cottage, there is a big old farmhouse on a steep, rocky hill, with two huge porches, a rambling stone barn out back, and a big pond in the front yard. I've always loved that house. When I was a kid, I thought it was possibly the Best Place to Live Ever.

Not long after we moved here, when Mr. Cate and I were driving home, he looked up at the big old farmhouse and said very plainly, "Yeesh. What a dump. Someone needs to clean that place up."

I was a little miffed. What was he talking about? It was a charming, storybook house! Well, it had been, once. When I looked a little closer, reality started to sink in.
The house I remembered was beautiful, with flowers in the front yard, rolling white fences, a little pier and canoe out in the pond, and horses grazing in the paddock beside the barn.

It had been a few years (20?) since I'd really looked at the place. It needed paint. The garden needed some serious tending. The bushes our front were wildly overgrown, covering much of the front porch. The white fencing had been removed, the pier was sinking into the pond, and the horses were gone. The road had been widened, too, and the house that once sat on a picturesque hill of rock gardens was now way too close to a two lane highway. To me, it was the same darling property I dreamed about when I was a little kid. I hadn't seen it from anyone else's perspective, and I had never told my husband that I loved that house as a kid, so how was he supposed to know?

Which reminded me of my writing.
I have a habit of being too obtuse with my plots. In trying to get too clever, I sometimes get way too subtle. I put in a lot of hints, but I don't actually explain what's going on. As a reader, I hate that. It's not fun, it's just irritating. Some things should be a puzzle, some clues should be left up to the reader to put together, but not everything. Sometimes, a nice, plain explanation is totally appropriate. Especially when you write steampunk, or sci-fi, or magical realism, or any other genre where nothing can be assumed about the characters or their world. Otherwise, you wind up with the endings where something that previously had no magical properties suddenly - does! Or characters have to bring the action to a grinding halt to sit around explaining what has actually been going on for the last 300 pages.

The good news, is, I think I'm improving.
Sometimes, I actually make sense.

1 comment:

Jenn (From the Mixed-Up Files) said...

I love this post! The comparison of the old beloved house and writing is so true. And your "captain obvious" label cracks me up. I might have to borrow that one, if I ever get more diligent about labeling my posts.