Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sooner is Better

One thing that my last manuscript taught me is something I had heard Kurt Vonnegut say and something I’m trying to do in my new WIP.

Tell everything you can as soon as you can. Don’t hold back. Don’t try to keep things hidden in the hopes of adding suspense. Okay, there are plot points you may eventually realize can be hidden and their press against the story will help in terms of tension BUT too often we withhold because we think something is cool and needs to be set up with a lot of events that will lead to it. Often though, putting it earlier will force the story to push deeper earlier. You’re building a story. You need to throw everything in as early as possible and then, in revision, make decisions about pacing.

In my new manuscript I was going to withhold an important piece of information one character knew about another. I thought this would add tension. BUT my choice to put it in now, get it out there, makes me see where the story should go. This point is going to allow me to get on to more important things (I hope). If I’d withheld it, I’d still be focusing on building toward it and that would put a drag on my story. I’m sure there are exceptions to this idea of not saving information for later in the story, but it’s at least something to consider as you build story. In a first draft, sooner is better unless you have a very good reason for saving it.

9 comments:

Elisabeth Black said...

What an amazingly good point.

Deb Salisbury said...

I hadn't thought of holding off in these terms. A great point! Thanks.

brian yansky said...

Thanks Elisabeth and Deb.

Anna said...

This really made me rethink the opening chapter of the revision I'm working on right now. I was going to hold off and reveal some information later on in the story, but instead I've decided to dive in and put the info in right away. In fact, I think I'm going to blog about this tomorrow. Thanks for the advice!

Andrea said...

Great advice, Brian. I'm finding with my latest WIP that when I reveal the info instead of holding it back, the story gets much more exciting. Otherwise there's this build up to something that can turn out to be not as good as all the hype.

brian yansky said...

Thanks Anna and Andrea. I'll check out your blog Anna. That's interesting, Andrea. So you focus on something and you spend a lot of time in the manuscript building it up and then it doesn't live up to the hype, so then you have to go back and figure out what to cut. Good point--another reason maybe to put it in sooner in the first draft and wait for revision to try to see what's really important.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Interesting...I always thought you were supposed to do the opposite so that you don't end up with an info dump.

brian yansky said...

Solvang,

I agree that you want to avoid information dump. And other writers are going to talk about plot and say you should release just a trickle of information in order to increase tension. Sometimes this might be right. But I know that on first drafts my withholding sometimes leads me the wrong way. For instance, some traumatic event in your main character's childhood is important. You think you can build tension by withholding it until the end so you end up devoting pages and pages to this, but maybe telling it near the beginning forces you to develop your story in other ways that deepen character etc... AGAIN, I'm not saying this is always true. Every story is different. It's just another idea to have in mind when you're making choices about character. A lot of writers talk about plot in sort of a conventional mystery-story kind of way; as I said maybe that's right sometimes but it's led me down the wrong path in some stories. Ultimately, you want to do what serves your particular story, but it's always good to have other perspectives and options.

James Killick said...

Great post and I'm glad to be reminded of this - it's something I've witnessed a lot in new writing - the author holding off what makes their story interesting for a big reveal some point later on - oft times though the reader will never get that far. Like the idea that getting it out early and up-front also pushes the story deeper - this is an interesting idea and I'm sure very true. I'm going to explore that idea further. A useful and thought-provoking post. Thank you.