Friday, June 25, 2010

Too Much Too Soon

A common story telling disaster, of which you are a sometime unwilling participant, is the desire to let the reader see what is going on, what is at stake, what the prize or contention point is,and what the potential menace is, a sort of Kubler-Ross index before the reader learns of an issue in the first place.

True enough, you intrigue the reader with the sense that two trains are already on the same track or are about to be shunted onto a common course, but this is done by oblique reference. Anything remotely resembling Little did they know, finds repose in the trash bin. The mantra is withhold; don't tell the reader what the reader wants to know until the reader is close to shaking with impatience to find out, which is toward the final paragraphs of a short story, the penultimate chapter of a novel--or later.

Nor is it prudent to take the reader where the reader wants to go. For all practical purposes, once the reader gets where he desires, the story is over. You don't have to believe that, but 1) make a list of your favorite stories that allow such things early on. Short list, right? 2) take a look at a story of yours in which the lead character accomplishes a major goal just as the story is setting out. See any problems? Hear any thunk sounds, like a large souffle dropping its collar right out of the oven? Unless the real story homes in on the consequences of a character accomplishing a major goal, the natives will be getting restless and the readers will be impatient enough to bail on you.

Things accomplished too soon, too easily, too much as if by accident or divine intervention all have the consequence the writer least wants to deal with, the Kubler-Ross index as it applies to the scrap of paper attached to a returned short story, or the Thanks-for-letting-us-see-the-enclosed letter that comes back with the book length manuscript, containing that impersonal-yet-snotty trope, unfortunately it does not suit our needs.

There is no one way to describe what the our needs of that kind of letter intends but you can be sure that some of those needs are for characters who seem to do things neither good for them or you, characters who are too comfortable about the wrong things, not uncomfortable enough about the right things, they are Emma Bovary, looking for a life that is quite beyond her grasp, Captain Ahab too pissed with one creature to realize he is angry with all of Nature, the way a faithful parishioner was after discovering God didn't see fit to grant him what he wished; they are individuals who achieve their heart's desire only to be left wondering, what now, what do I do with this situation I have wrought upon myself?

Bad dialogue, too much description, too many coincidences. Mere moths fluttering about the Coleman lantern during a summer's camp-out compared to the heavy hand of Too much, too soon. Even when we tell ourselves a secret story, we know not to make the payoff to soon or too easy, the better to enjoy the satisfaction of the feeling that emerges at the end, a haunting surprise of satisfaction that comes from a source deeper than the payoff.

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