Oct. 20, 2014

# 3. What I learned while writing "Don Fernando’s Family" [Click here to find "Write Comment" button

“Always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. Nothing puts the reader off more than a great slab of prose at the start.” [P.G. Wodehouse]. I was reminded of that quote in Writer’s Almanac when I got my first draft of Don Fernando’s Family back from the editor.

 Chapter Two came with a great slash across my slab of prose on the first two pages. The second chapter carries a great burden of backstory. That may be a reason as they say, but it is not an excuse. The author thought that the backstory was riveting, but the author was wrong.

I like to write historical fiction and I put a lot of thought into my character’s history and resulting behavior. That’s a setup. What’s worse is that in my preferred reading, I like backstory. That, and other kinds of digression, are interesting, often fun and usually help me understand the setting and characters better. The Goldman book I referred to in #2, is a great example. (It won an award. Go figure.)

But, enough already. Even in my attempts to write “literature,” the story still has to move, and nothing does that quite like in-the-present, vibrant conversation. So, out goes the great slab, in comes a short setting description and dialogue.  (I can read your mind, that’s a lot of “greats,” you’re thinking.)

Now, my editor and I have a certain tension.  He is an award winning thriller-genre-writer, and I am scarcely read.  “One scene has to feed the next scene,” he says, “you stop the story.” My personal preferences elicit sneers.

In spite of our differences, I’ve learned to respect the story and keep it moving. Backstory has its place but in dribs and drabs, or written as present action when a drib or a drab just won’t serve.

 Yeah, but ha ha, Ed. I still digress.