February 24, 2012 / 6 Comments

Listen Up!

            Look, I don’t have a lot of time this week, so I need to make this one kind of quick.  We’re about due for a short one, anyway.

            I’ve mentioned once or thrice, how as you know is a good sign that an unrealistic, often unnecessary exchange is going to happen between two characters.  It’s a flag to look for on your second pass through a manuscript.  Today I wanted to mention two other flags my lovely lady noticed one day while she was working her way through a pile of contest scripts.
            Probably seven out of ten times, if I start a line of dialogue with look or listenI’m either about to perform an expository infodump or state something that’s already apparent—or it should be apparent and I’m getting it across with exposition instead.
            Check out these examples…
            “Look, we’ve got to set these charges before the Nazis reach this bridge or the whole mission’s a failure.”
            “Listen, I don’t like this situation any more than you.”
            “Look, if I can reach the ranger station by sundown everything will be fine.”
            “Listen, you’ve never given up on anything in your life and I’m not going to let you start now.”
            “Look, I’m in love with her, okay?”
            There’s nothing wrong with any one of these lines individually, but using lookand listen can become a habit.  And that habit means my writing ends up filled with lots of exposition and on-the-nose dialogue
            Go through your manuscript and check for look and listen.  Are those sentences really adding anything, or are they just repeating something characters and readers already know?  Are they adding anything that couldn’t be expressed better through subtext or actions?  Some of them are probably good, but I’m betting a few of them could get reworked.
            I’m probably not going to get to rant next week because I’m a guest down at ConDor Con in San Diego.  I’m on a few panels, so if you happen to be there, stop by and listen to me… well, rant about writing and storytelling.  But when I get back I should have something interesting to talk about.
            Until then, go write.

0 replies on “Listen Up!”

Bobbie, I've been thinking about this for a day or so, and the more I thought about it the more I realized I had to ramble on about… 🙂

Would you mind if I didn't answer right now and made this the next post topic?

Re: Bobbie's query

The short answer is, you don't. You write each book in the series to stand on its own, introducing the characters and backstory naturally, as events require. Enough detail should come through in this way to develop the familiarity needed by the reader. If Book 2 can't survive without a working knowledge of Book 1, then either (a) they aren't really tow books, but one very long book (see: LORD OF THE RINGS), or (b) you haven't written one or both books very well (see: umpteen fantasy and SF series over the last 40-odd years).

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