Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Rock Star's Homecoming: Linda Gould

"Nestled in the Appalachian foothills, Glendary College is the epitome of a small-town college. Calm and studious on the surface, the mixture of jocks, religious fanatics, and hippies creates a powder keg just waiting to explode. The igniting spark comes in teh form of the Sunburst, a homegrown rock-and-roll band whose members go out of their way to break campus rules. Finally, at a late-night concert, they go too far, and the band members are expelled."

I nearly reached the end of page seven before finding my fifteen errors. Eleven of those errors were down to the writer's repeated use of exposition to reveal backstory or characterisation, which drastically interrupted the flow of the main story and which could easily have been dealt with in a less intrusive way.

I've flicked through the rest of the book and while there's less exposition as the story progresses, it does continue to intrude.


lgould said...

Could you explain more clearly what constitutes an “error” in your judgment? I made a determined effort to eliminate spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors from my book. I also employed the publisher’s in-house proofreader. I understand that there can be differences of opinion about industry standards, but are you calling those clear-cut errors? I simply don’t believe there are fifteen obvious errors in my book, much less in the first seven pages.

Also, could you explain what “repeated use of exposition” means? I assume you’re referring to the technique of using italicized ruminations by various characters at the beginning of each chapter. I’ve had doubts of my own about how well this works, although I’ve seen the same technique used in traditionally published books. Still, since I establish on the first page that this is what I’m doing, it seems to me it’s more of a choice than an “error.”

Jane Smith said...

Linda, the text was very clean and you and the proof-reader did a good job with it: the errors I found were almost all down to exposition, also sometimes known as info-dumping, which is a problem with the writing rather than with grammar or punctuation. I'll write a separate post about it as soon as I can as it's so important (but I'm approaching deadline right now, so can't promise it immediately).

It's a very common issue, and I found instances in all three of the books I detailed yesterday. Just so you know.

I found the italicised portions of text interesting: they added a sense of mystery and drama to the text, and worked for me--but it's all such a matter of personal taste, isn't it?

And good on you for being such a good sport about this: it's not easy, I know, to receive criticism and for you to come back and ask for more information like that, without arguing or being angry, reflects very well on you.

Jane Smith said...

Linda, I've just put up a post which explains a little about exposition: do let me know if you want anything explained more fully. I hope it's a help.

lgould said...

Hi Jane,

Thanks for explaining what you meant by exposition. I gather it’s a common flaw among inexperienced writers, and particularly noticeable when it occurs at the beginning of a story. In the hands of a skillful author, though, I wonder if it’s such a bad thing. After I read your post, I looked at a couple of my favorite novels to see if I could catch a famous author in the act. I noticed that Gail Godwin, who has written several long, marvelous novels about Southern families, tends to begin her narratives slowly and introduces characters and back-story at the beginning. That gives the impression that the characters will be driving the story and not vice versa. That is fine with me as a reader, since I value character development above all else, and don’t mind if the plot doesn’t explode in the first few pages. But I guess someone like Godwin, with at least five best sellers to her credit, has earned a little indulgence along those lines!

Thanks again for your help.


Jane Smith said...

Linda, I agree that exposition is often used--but it's how it's used that's the issue.

If backstory is introduced through flashbacks, in whole scenes or chapters, then that, on the whole, can work if you're a good enough writer. Even a whole paragraph can sometimes work, if you're really skilled and you work it into the text in a careful enough way. But if you have snippets of it popping up all over the text, in dialogue and thoughts and plain narrative, that's when it really causes problems. I doubt that even the most skilled writer could carry that one off, because it really is distracting used in that way. And thanks again for being so sporting about all of this--I wish more writers dealt with criticism with such good grace, and such eagerness to improve (I know I didn't when I started out...!).