Tuesday, October 29, 2013

SciFiMagpie--Editing Tips and a Free Book

Hello hello!

My name is Michelle Browne. I'm a member of the SFRB, and I'm not just a writer--I also edit! Today, I'd like to share some tips about exposition and world-building. Not rushing through the first chapter is vitally important if you're trying to sustain your readers' attention. Let's talk about why.

In addition, you ought to know that one of my books, The Underlighters, is free on Amazon from today to October 31, 2013! Be sure to have a look when you need a break from writing.

All right! So--how do you establish a setting for your readers without cramming too much information down their throats?

World-building: historical and scientific details

In the manuscripts that cross my desktop, I often find myself cutting and paring away chunks of exposition or blatant references to specialized knowledge. Science and history tend to be the most common focal points for these. It’s important to avoid barraging your readers with details from your research, because rather than adding realism, it tends to kill the flow.

For instance, take the following paragraph.

“Alex crossed the historic Rue d’Day Street, home to the Molkovian revolution in 1985. As he walked into the café, he admired the many posters of Herr Somerfeldt, the Molkovian revolution’s leader. He sneered in disgust as two Kratzenofficers munched their pastries and loudly complained about the posters. Alex, being a zunterfeldt—a half-Molkovian--had a degree of protection under the law, but not enough to get away with much. He accepted his anchovy cappuccino and walked out, keeping his head down.”

First of all, the pacing in this paragraph is off. The description is rushed, and historical name-checks substitute for actual use of imagery. What does the street look like? Are there lots of people on it? A mere line or two could tell us more than the name-checks.

Then, when we discover Alex is a zunterfelt, we get a line of info-dump. Instead of having the narrator mention this, we should show it. Here is a revision that still makes use of the historical touch-stones, but doesn’t force the research down your throat quite as ostentatiously.

“Alex scuttled across the Rue d’Day. The grand street was lined with old buildings and bustling with citizens. The glass storefronts were loaded with choice pastries, couture fashion, and sparkling jewelry, but Alex kept his eyes on the café.

He walked through the door, the bell’s harsh voice jarring his thoughts. A couple of Kratzenofficers munched their pastries in the corner. As he waited for his anchovy cappuccino, he could feel their eyes drilling into his back. A zunterfeldt like him couldn’t take any chances with bad behavior. From the ceiling, Herr Somerfeldt watched benevolently. He took reassurance in the long-dead revolutionary’s smile, but darted out, cappuccino in hand, without a word to any of them.”

The same holds true for scientific information. If we get a long scene where characters vomit information at each other, the reader will usually become bored and distracted by technical details rather than focusing on what the technology does. Remember, actions speak louder than exposition, and imagery is more important than a user manual. Use emotions to underline information’s importance, and try to work it into the atmosphere of the piece. Information alone doesn’t generate an atmosphere.

Furthermore, make sure the information is actually vital. Are you going to reveal it later? Will the reader’s understanding of something truly suffer if it’s not there? Worse—is the information killing the action, or even giving away a future plot point?

While exceptions to this rule do exist, and examples of breaking it abound, keep in mind that info-dumps of research are still a bad habit. Sure, there are times when info is engaging, but the closer to the middle you present the info, and the smaller the chunks, the happier your readers will be. Research, like other forms of exposition, should be a treat—salt the text with them, but don’t overdo it. After all, too much salt causes hypertension and high blood pressure, and too much exposition has the same effect on your editor. For readers, it can be a soporific. Don’t put your readers to sleep.


Hungry for more? Want to see world-building in action? Don't forget to check out The Underlighters, free from October 29-31, 2013. 

Nightmares are bleeding into her waking world. Children are going missing. To save them, she must overcome her wreck of a personal life and a closet full of skeletons. She doesn’t know whether the horrors in the shadows are real...or if she is going mad. 

18-year-old Janelle Cohen is an electrician in an underground city. The world above has been swal-lowed by mind-destroying Dust. Her small life changes forever when a dragon attacks her on the way home from work. 

Her friends worry that she has the Fever, Dust-induced insanity. A terrifying trip to the surface of the world, the ancient and abandoned Up, deepens the nightmare. With no world left above, she and the other Crows cannot afford to fail… 

5 stars: “…You will be rewarded with a dive into the depths of imagination that may leave you questioning, breathless and inspired.” –www.TracingTheStars.com

5 stars: “… Engaging, ground breaking prose that is not afraid to test the reader’s boundaries. “—Sara Celi

5 stars: “…A wonderful read that is full of life, nightmares, fear, and dreams.” –Casey Peeler


Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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