Fear in Writing: Missing Pieces

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Missing Pieces

Storytelling is an art.  Perhaps the oldest art.  It is a way to live on after death.  It is a way to impact the next generation and those beyond them.  It is important.

We tell stories in my house.  But it started before us...My father was a storyteller.  Some were fantastic and a little jaw-dropping in this current age (like the brother who died because his hair got stuck in the tub drain--to get us to keep our long hair away from it while bathing), while others made us giggle with wonder (like the dozens of variations on Grizzly Adams and the Indian Chief looking for his son Falling Rock--you know, like the road sign: 'Watch for Falling Rock.')  Now he shares his crazy mind with my children, and they love "Papa's" stories.

So we tell stories.  I make my kids superheroes and animal whisperers, great adventurers, pilots, artists, and ballerinas.  They have been around the world through our stories.  They have battled Transformers and befriended lions, tamed snakes, and saved many'a'zoo.

And now my 2yo daughter is picking up the torch.  Unfortunately, her favorite place to tell stories is on the swing.  This means that I hear the tale like a Jim Carrey balcony scene: every other phrase is missing.  For instance yesterday, a prince and a princess were dancing.  Then, all of a sudden, the princess was in a spider web!  I didn't get to hear the action that brought her to this scary fate.

This phenomenon made me think...What if we leave too much out of our narrative?  There is no reason to show a character's every move from plot start to plot end.  But leave out too much, and the reader can become lost.  'How did MC get here?  Why did he go here?' they might wonder.

I recently finished a book that left me feeling a little like this.  It is a book I had long anticipated as the author is widely sold (internationally) and respected.  Jo Nesbø's Nemesis struck me this way.  It wasn't necessarily action that was missing, but more the feeling that I was missing some information.  And then there would be a paragraph I'd have to reread because I was sure I had skipped a page, but hadn't.

In this case, it very well could have been the translation.  But...will I read another Nesbø?  Because of his reputation, yes.  But not as quickly as I would have.  Will I continue to listen to my daughter's stories?  Of course!  But only because she is my daughter.  If a career storyteller told them in every other sentence fashion, I wouldn't stick around.

How about you?  Do you struggle with how much action to include and how much to leave out?  Have you ever read an author who has this problem?


  1. Michele - I love this post about the long history of storytelling :-). It's gone on for as long as there have been people, I think. From wandering storytellers to today's novelists, people have listened to and read stories other people have told.

    You ask an interesting question about how much to say or leave out. It's funny; I think it's because of my academic background, but I tend to struggle to make sure I put enough in. Readers want details such as what the setting looks like, how the characters move, that sort of thing, and I have had to teach myself to do that.

  2. Assuring proper motivation for your characters, logical choice and reasoning behind actions, has got to be the most difficult aspect of writing. It seems so simple really, but when you get down in the trenches and attempt it... well, I struggle daily with making sure motivation is in line.

    It's also essential to having a great novel and not something that's an experiment in deus ex machina.

  3. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with too much action on an author's part. I don't need to follow the character every second of every day...but I don't want to miss anything either.
    Love the Falling Rock story...I'm going to tell my two-year olds that one!
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  4. My grandpa was our storyteller, but I love that your dad explained everyday things with stories! My daughter used to BEG for stories--I obliged some, but a new short fairy tale every night? That is SO NOT MY GENRE! Her creative writing is good though--although she still jumps around and tells TOO MUCH... she has to make sure we are all aware of EVERYTHING. I suppose that is my first inclination, too--to tell too much--it is why I have adopted a 'fast first draft' approach--much less tempted to the 'and then... and then... and then..." the end product is STILL more likely to hit too hard than not hard enough... TMI is just sort of my nature.

  5. I probably do too much, although it's not always action-action. I'm getting better though.

  6. I've had the same feeling sometimes when reading the books by Jo Nesbø. and in my case it cant not be due to the translation ... It's very rare that I'm really impressed by crime books, but I think Nesbø's books are worth reading.

    Storytelling, yes, that's a tradition in my family too. My father is an excellent storyteller. After he retired, he's sharing his time between skiing, mountain hiking and writing. Now he's got more than 300 short stories and poems ... in handwritten note books, he has never touched a computer. We also have our own Christmas song that he wrote, both text and tune >:)

    Cold As Heaven