Thursday, July 2, 2009

sheepdog and writing

My sheepdog reminded me of something the other day. His comments are subtle in the way of a Tibetan monk, one grown wise with meditation. He doesn’t actually talk to me, of course, because that would mean I was, well, insane. No. But he does communicate.

I was reading my manuscript out loud and he, his name is Merlin, fell asleep. Merlin is not a quiet sleeper. He snores like a chainsaw. He made it hard to read.

I stroked my chin and contemplated the meaning of those booming breaths, his closed eyes, his outstretched paws. It was revealed to me. I saw. Yes, he was reminding me of one of the cardinal rules about writing. Do not be boring. When you’re revising, remember that there is a reader (most likely not a wise sheepdog or a Tibetan monk, but still) and that you want, no you need, that reader to keep turning the page. It might seem obvious but it’s easy to forget that one aspect of writing is to entertain. Whatever other literary heights you hope to scale, you’d better make sure your work has the virtue of being interesting or all will be for naught.

Great writers can get away with anything, but the rest of us have to be careful about self-indulgent rambles. Long asides or lengthy internal monologues can often be boring, too. What you really have to watch out for is weak selectivity. Don’t throw everything you’ve got into the story. You will be like someone at a party who tells you a long, long story about their summer vacation, unselectively giving useless detail after useless detail. They will have you yawning before they’ve hit the midway point.


Taylor K. said...

Keep making me wish I had a sheepdog. It's good to have a reminder not to be boring or drone on forever. It's an easy mistake to make. I've learned actually the more I love every detail of an idea the easier it is for me to try to force boring into a story just so I can keep in all those little details. I think that could be the truth for a lot of writers. It's not fun to cut stuff you love, but sometimes it's needed if you want the reader to actually make it to the end of the book.

Brian Yansky said...

Sheepdogs are definitely fun dogs--and wise of course. You bring up a good point. Sometimes we'll start writing more just to justify keeping lines we love, which can take us even further away from the real story.