20 December, 2011

Reintegration and Details

I finished the second draft. Now I'm working on the prologue and first four chapters again, integrating some backstory changes and trying to make sure other details are present.

This is a pain in the ass.

Scattered across these five chapters are various pieces of information, some of which are important, some of which turn out not to be so. I put them in early on, thinking they'd be relevant later, but that's not how it turned out. And while interesting world details are, er, interesting, if they don't inform the story, they can actually harm it by being present.

The barbaric tribal nation to the north is something I find interesting, but it doesn't actually come up much during the story, and so it's a bad idea to present details about that nation that are not relevant to the plot or the characters. It's just distracting. Readers will think it's important, and it never turns out to be important, and it's not clearly part of a scene-setting.

For example, a character arrives in a new city, and is passing through an open-air market. You have a scene like this (off the top of my head):
Ralyn gazed out across the bazaar. She saw shaven-headed Irtoks, in their polished black mail; there was a trio of Grendul, arguing fiercely and slapping each other on the chests. Vendors kept their heads down whenever a Thorn Caller passed by, singing his terrible dirge.
Irtoks, Grendul, and Thorn Callers don't ever need to come up again in the story, because this is just giving a sense of the place where Ralyn (who is presumably a main character) currently is.

Compare with this passage:
Ralyn listened to the lords debating. They spoke of the Ashkadar, the barbarians in the northern mountains, and whether they might try to invade the green lands to the south again. Ashkadar were fierce fighters; growing up in a frozen wasteland meant only the strongest survived.
Unless these "Ashkadar" show up later, that last sentence is irrelevant padding. Ralyn is not in the frozen north, she is not going to run into any Ashkadar. Even if she knows this detail about the Ashkadar, relating it to the reader is not really a good idea.

Yes, there are some readers who don't mind plowing through loads of extra, irrelevant details, because they're fascinated by the details per se. But it doesn't make for a stronger story. And it's not the way I want to write. And yet I find myself writing that way a lot, because I'm pretty much making it all up as I go along. An interesting detail will occur to me, and I'll just put it in on the fly.

The hard part isn't recognizing these irrelevant details later on; the hard part is making myself delete them.

Another problem is being too vague about important details. I tend to be too oblique; I don't like stating facts outright, even if important. I prefer to integrate them organically.  But what happens is that the details end up sounding like elaborations on things that were stated earlier. The reader ends up thinking "Did I miss something?"

The hardest part about all this is keeping track of which details are where. Did I mention and reinforce the idea that Ashkadar raiders are incredibly fierce and brutal? Mentioning it once in chapter 1, when the raiders don't show up until chapter 15, means that some readers will have completely forgotten that detail by the time the Ashkadar show up.

But at the same time, overdoing it is a problem. Readers will notice, and say, "Geez, we get it, the Ashkadar are fierce warriors."

(This isn't even a "show, don't tell" problem. If the characters have heard all their lives that the Ashkadar are fierce, then having the characters think about how fierce the Ashkadar are is fine, as long as it gets shown at some point.)


  1. What happened to my comment? Hopefully this one gets on there. In a nutshell, I said that it sounds like you have a lot on your plate and that you shouldn't overanalyze too much and try not to be too hard on yourself. Then I said something along the lines of I hope that I don't come off as sounding trite. I really mean this. You're an excellent writer and maybe someday you can be my publisher.

  2. Thanks :) I really am trying not to overanalyze. I think the way to mitigate that is just to be honest with myself about what I think it means, get through the writing part, and seek feedback to see if other people perceive it the same way I do.