Tips For Better Fiction Writing: Assume Your Reader Is Smart and One Word Character Intros

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I’m writing a book series called Tips For Better Fiction Writing, in which I tackle all the rookie mistakes new writers make.

And hey, I made them, too.

Which is why I’m helping you not make them.

Until the next book in the series comes out, you’ll see these gems here on the blog.

Here’s a passage from a recent MS (manuscript) I was editing. The character names are changed to not give away the story, but it’ll change anyway.

This is not a fantasy story, where mermaids and dragons might exist. It’s modern day/contemporary. You’ll see why I note that in a second.


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Original paragraph:

Built like a tall lumpy sofa, Joshua could not be described as fat or muscular. He was wiping his nose with the back of his hand when he looked up and noticed Brandi. He froze, staring as if she was a mermaid sunning herself on a rock, something one never expected to see. She returned the stare and his gaze flew to the empty wall as if it might suddenly teach him not to look like a fool in front of the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in real life. Like a guilty Peeping-Tom, his pale skin failed to conceal his flush of embarrassment.

It’s cute, right? We get a pretty good feel for the information.

So what’s my issue with it?

Let’s go from least important to most important.

3. He was wiping his nose with the back of his hand when he looked up and noticed Brandi. This tells us a lot about him. We begin to infer things by this information. He’s not as smart as the others, he’s a bit less cultured, and he’s probably a little goofier. All from the way he’s caught wiping his nose.

Most of you wouldn’t even have put that little tidbit of information in there, but a little info goes a long way.

2. This is cute: He froze, staring as if she was a mermaid sunning herself on a rock, something one never expected to see. 

Or you could say: He froze, staring as if he’d discovered a mermaid sunning herself on a rock.

What’s the difference?

Well, as I said, it’s a not a fantasy story, so as a grown up adult, we’d be a bit shocked if we were walking along and saw a mermaid, right? Then you don’t need “something one never expected to see” because it’s kinda saying the same thing.

(Equally, it’s a cute line so you can keep it, too, if his demeanor is more playful, which it may be if he’s wiping his nose when he appears. Think Hagrid in Harry Potter. Big and clumsy but very lovable because of the childlike innocence and the willingness to help the MC. The author may know that already; the reader does not, so the intro words matter greatly.)

1. No spoon feeding!

She returned the stare and his gaze flew to the empty wall as if it might suddenly teach him not to look like a fool in front of the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in real life.

Cut. Why else would he look away when she looks at him? And to an empty wall? Because he’s shy and/or embarrassed.

“his pale skin failed to conceal his flush of embarrassment” (a little telly) versus “A flush of red appeared on his cheeks” (a little showier).

See?

You’re smart. Assume your reader is smart. They will get the clues you put out, and by figuring out your clues they will be much more immersed in the story because they are engaged in figuring it out.

These introductory lines – and I do it in my first drafts, too – are your way of telling YOU what comes next, or what the mood is, as you write.

Like your brain gets an idea so you write a note and then flesh it out.

That appears on the page as doing ittwiceto the reader’s eye. No reason to do it twice, and since the first one is almost always telly, cut it and go with the showier second one.

That’s why we take time off from our finished draft and then attack it with fresh eyes – so we can spot this stuff.

Revised paragraph:

Built like a tall lumpy sofa, Jerome could not be described as fat or muscular, but an odd combination of both—just… big. He was wiping his nose with the back of his hand when he looked up and noticed Brandi. He froze, staring as if he’d discovered a mermaid sunning herself on a rock. She returned the stare and his gaze flew to the empty wall. His pale skin failed to conceal his flush of embarrassment.

To my eye, we get the same information, shown more than told, and we get it in fewer words.

That makes each sentence more flavorful, more powerful.

More information in fewer words = better pace.


You can do this stuff.

A is for Action 12 FINALWanna get personalized tips like this for your story and take it to the next level? Check out my Private Critique Group.

What’s YOUR revision process like?

Get A Is For Action today for 99 cents, part of Dan Alatorre’s Tips For Better Fiction Writing series.

11 thoughts on “Tips For Better Fiction Writing: Assume Your Reader Is Smart and One Word Character Intros

    • Walking away and not looking at it at all, it allows you to see what’s really there instead of what you think you put on the page. When you write, you know what you meant to say. But a little bit of time gets in between you and that first draft and all of a sudden you see maybe things are not quite exactly how you thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I frequently tell other authors to use fun little tidbits like that to reveal background or character. Also that typing “the end” doesn’t mean the story is finished — there’s still 90% of the job left to do. I remember there was a guy on a facebook group who would literally post new books for sale two or three times a week, and I can guarantee he was cranking them out and not even editing the things at all. I shudder to think what they read like.

    Like

  2. Hi Dan,
    When I speak to someone, I have the bad habit of giving way too much detail and lose them before I get to my point. I do that with my writing. The editor I use is always red-lining and berating me with this. I use the excuse, it’s the accountant in me. Details—Details—Details. I don’t mind admitting I’m a novice writer, I appreciate a post like yours helping me with the finer details of good writing. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy to help.

      Usually details aren’t too interesting so maybe that’s why your editor is doing it. What you want to look at is laying out all the information and then only moving forward with the really interesting stuff. That’s hard to figure out early on but with some practice we all get there!

      Liked by 1 person

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