One of the most serious issues facing many writers is the ability to maintain the action throughout the narrative. Unfortunately, the mere creation of a dramatic occurrence does not guarantee plot movement.
The literary critic for The Palm Beach Post, Scott Eyman, has written many outstanding books on the legends of the cinema. In an article he wrote some years ago pertaining to a trend in film making that was conceived to sustain an audience’s attention span, he stated, “Action has become confused with movement.” I was so taken by what I felt was an exceptionally acute and accurate comment, I asked for and received his permission to cite his line, since I am of the opinion this issue applies equally to crafting a novel.
There is a Time When you may have to Kill your Babies
In writing, a glaring fault occurs when an otherwise perfectly good scene has nothing to do with the plot. What happens when the story has evolved, from that plot element, to the state of rendering the scene superfluous or no longer pertinent to the story–but the writer doesn’t want to lose the scene? As harsh as it sounds, to paraphrase Faulkner, this is the time the writer may have to kill his or her babies. But not many who write their gems want to do it. And not without a battle of intestinal tumult that often reaches epic proportions.
Whether Exposition or Dialogue, Lateral Movement is Equally Deadly to Advancing the Plot
No aspect of a narrative is immune, and to imply the problem is found more in exposition than dialogue would likely be inaccurate, but flat scenes seem easier to identify in the latter. Stagnant dialogue while dining, for example, although much less dramatic, is not dissimilar in its end result for a moviegoer who experiences a fight scene or an explosion or a car chase that is ridiculously positioned or overused as a plot point. In leaving the theater and asking why a particular scene was in the movie, there is no difference should a reader say that a passage of exposition or a rift of dialogue had nothing to do with the story line of a novel.
Writers of Books Don’t have the Luxury Filmmakers Possess
But movie makers have an advantage, since their medium is visual. A lot can be remedied in a couple of minutes and a few scene changes. A novel requires much more time to regain the reader’s confidence after a lull in the narrative. And it requires much less effort to put down a flawed book that might take another eight hours to read than to hang around the theater for a half hour until the movie ends.
It is Impractical to Write around an Ineffective Scene
It sounds simple, but this is the whole magilla: For anyone desiring publication by a quality royalty publisher, all of the words have to be focused toward the goal of advancing the plot. If not, revise or cut them. It is impossible to write the plot around rhetoric in its original context, no matter how brilliant it might be, if it does not move the story forward. When a writer accepts this, the task of transitioning prose becomes easier (sometimes exponentially so) and the overall narrative, with the rarest of exceptions, more effective.
Robert L. Bacon is the Founder of The Perfect Write(TM) theperfectwrite.com
For authors, The Perfect Write™ is now providing FREE QUERY LETTER REVIEW AND ANALYSIS. Post your query to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org(no attachments) and visit the Sample Letters Page for examples of successful query letters.