Monday, June 2, 2014

Story Instability

My Mom broke her hip several months ago. She required surgery and extensive physical therapy. The muscles on the side she injured were weak, and they gave her exercises to strengthen them.

As she got better, she began getting around without using her walker or cane. Because the muscles were still not strong, this caused her to lean to the right when walking and created a "Leaning Tower of Pisa" effect.

The therapist explained the necessity of using the cane when not using the walker to help her stand straight. By not using anything, she was training her muscles to continue the unsteady gait. This could lead to another devastating fall.

As writers, we can get into bad habits that will be hard to break. We're often told we must learn the rules before deliberately breaking them for some literary purpose. Why should we listen?

1.  Story instability - Head hopping keeps the reader off balance. They're forced to do a mental shift when the author should be switching those gears for them. I can almost see them tipping their heads to the side and saying, "who's talking now?"

2.  Story dysfunction - I once read a book where the author introduced at least 20 characters on the first page. They weren't doing anything in particular. I tried to get through the first chapter, but finally gave up. A famous commercial once demanded, "Where's the beef?" In this case, I said, "Where's the story?"

3.  Story demise - We get one chance to make a good impression on publishing professionals and readers. Blow that one chance, and it will take a lot to persuade them to pick up our work again.

No matter how much natural storytelling ability we have, it's worth the effort to learn the craft. Just like bad habits in life, incorrect techniques can be difficult to remedy once they're ingrained in our minds.

Writers:  Have you picked up any bad writing habits along the way? How did you re-train your brain?

Readers:  If a book doesn't grab your attention on the first page, will you continue reading it?

Photo Credit:  mzacha


Diane Estrella said...

I do give books more than one page. Usually about 1/3 of the way through the book and then I skim and then I jump to the end. I always feel bad that I didn't like it.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Diane -

With reading time so limited, I can understand why those first few pages are so critical. In the past I'd plow through a book even if it wasn't working for me, but I can no longer afford the loss of time.

Susan :)

BECKY said...

Hi Susan. I'm so sorry to hear about your mom and hope she's doing much better. I loved your Leaning Tower of Pisa description!
I've always been what I guess I would call an "impatient" reader. If the book doesn't grab me within the first couple of pages....that's it. It's hard for me to fathom people reading an entire book they didn't like, just because they couldn't possibly NOT read it, once they started! I'm with you. Life is too short to waste time with things that aren't necessary! Thanks for a great post.