Economic Storytelling

Happy December, one and all! First, an update… which isn’t much of an update, I hate to say. I have a “thing” going on which has delayed the release of Curse Servant. My apologies to those of you chomping at the bit to read it, but trust me… if it works out like I hope it does, it will improve the way you read the Dark Choir series. I’m hoping to hear soon whether it’ll come together. In the meantime, I’m finishing up a short story I decided to write for the hell of it. Holy cats. I haven’t written a short story in at least five years. This has been an education!

And said education is what I’d like to discuss today.

One of the important considerations in short stories, and indeed novels, is economy of words. There are a hundred ways to lead a reader through a day in the character’s life. One way is to recount every waking moment. Another is to relate only the most exciting single minutes of the day. And there’s an entire continuum between. The job of the storyteller is to choose which minutes of a character’s existence deserve the reader’s attention.

I just finished reading Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester. It’s a dystopian sci fi novel written in 1956. It was “out there, man”, so to speak. One thing I noticed was how good Bester was at only giving us the bits that matter. The novel churned forward like a juggernaut, and I consumed it quickly. Granted, Bester wasn’t trying to write literary fiction, nor was he (necessarily) trying to challenge the reader’s comprehension skills. The content did all the challenging for him. Bester also wrote for comic books… he’s the man who penned the Green Lantern Oath. He credits his work in the trenches at DC Comics for teaching him how to choose his words sparingly.

Now, on the other hand, I’m reading a post-apocalyptic novel right now which, though not necessarily “poorly written”, certainly lacks Bester’s sense of economy. At one point the authors spent an entire page describing the main character breaking away from the story to go upstairs, shower and shave, get dressed, and return to the story. I remember thinking to myself “why didn’t they just say ‘he got cleaned up and returned’?”

Granted, some authors deliberately weave their words into something that requires the reader to step up to the literary plate before taking a swing. Others choose to “stall the engine” in order to slow the pacing on purpose. And these are choices… important choices at that. A good storyteller is mindful of the throttle, excises unnecessary narration when the story needs to gain speed, yet allow the reader to take a breath from time to time. But it should clear to any reader that a good storyteller is cognizant of these choices, and isn’t just hammering out words. In truth, it’s a sign of good revision skills.

I hope to return to the blog soon with some good news. Until then, have a lucky Friday the 13th, and if I don’t see you before, Happy Holidays!

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