Tips for Aspiring Writers 03: Don’t “step” on your point; land on it!

by Angelique on October 4, 2010

stage with fancy curtainsHave you ever heard the phrase, “stepping on a line”? It refers to a type of mistake made by actors and comedians.

They say their line at the wrong time, or with the wrong inflection, or they twist the words out of the written order, or — in the case of comedy — they belabor the punchline. In all cases, they remove an important element of the line that it needs to be interesting, emphatic, dramatic or funny.

Writers do this, too. They don’t give their most important point the center of attention, or they have the narrator continue talking long after s/he should have shut the hell up. Or — this is especially popular in genre fiction — they are unable to end a scene until they make their character physically leave the area, even though the things that the character does in order to leave the area do nothing for the plot, the ambiance or the development of the character.

I’ll give two examples — a weak scene and an effective scene — that I wrote myself. But first, you need to watch the video that inspired the scene I’m about to describe. Warning: You may want to shoo small children out of the room before playing it.

 

Now imagine that you have to describe the most essential feature of this video in a book. You want this video, and the heroine’s reaction to it, as the final scene in a chapter, a kind of cliff-hanger.

The Weak Scene

Creenix stared at the screen in shock. The video featured the new human at the embassy, Jon-something, who wasn’t wearing any clothes at all. He was riding some kind of big animal while it jumped over some fences. It looked dangerous, but it looked even more weird because he was nude and everyone else were wearing some kind of uniform.

Creenix turned off her computer. She didn’t know if this was normal on Earth, but it wasn’t something anyone would ever do on Rynax.

Okay, the above scene lets the reader know what Creenix is thinking, but we don’t really experience it with her. Let’s try the scene another way:

The Strong Scene

By the time she returned to her office, Creenix was beyond annoyed. All day people had been pushing her to watch that stupid video that was racing around the PlaNet like zipfire, the one starring the new human at the embassy, Jon-something. Apparently he was riding some kind of animal without any saddle or hand-holds while it jumped over things. Well, so what? What the hell was so important about a crazy video? People made crazy videos every day. When she sat down at her computer, there it was again. Might as well get it over with. She sighed and pushed “play.”

Then the video began. Creenix felt herself freeze, her eyes locked on the screen. A moment later, she actually felt her antennae curl.

Apparently no one had bothered to tell her why the video was shocking. It wasn’t because Jon-something jumped an animal over large fences. And it wasn’t just because he jumped an animal over large fences bareback. It was because he jumped an animal over large fences bareback… and he was naked.

 

Feel the difference?

When it comes to making an impact, fiction writing, non-fiction writing and public speaking all have this in common: The most important information should be in the most prominent place. For non-fiction writing, this is often the start of a sentence, paragraph or chapter. For fiction writing and public speaking, this is usually at the end. And remember: In fiction writing, the importance of information isn’t judged by the degree to which it moves the plot, but rather by the degree to which it has an emotional impact on the reader.

Have questions? Please ask! The comment section is below!

 

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