Monday, March 9, 2015

Guest post with YA Paranormal Romance Author Megan Tayte

Leaving out the Parts that Readers Skip

 

In my career as a writer and editor, I’ve read a lot of ‘how-to write’ guidance (and plenty some myself). Of all the advice, this, from crime author Elmore Leonard, is in my top ten: ‘Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip’ (From 10 Rules of Writing, Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

Hand up high: I’m totally guilty of skipping parts of books if I’m bored. On occasion, I’ve turned a page, seen a paragraph spanning the entire double-page spread, scanned enough to see it’s all scenic description and just sailed right on to the next action/dialogue sequence. Other times, I’ve given up on a book entirely because I keep having to fight the urge to skip. No, I don’t have the attention span of a toddler on a Smartie high: I just like writing in which every word is essential to developing the plot. Sharp writing. Pacey writing.

When I sat down to write the Cerulean series, I knew I had a lot of story to cram onto the pages, and that I didn’t want each book to work out too long – around 80,000 words; about right for the YA genre, I think. I also knew I wanted to write page turners, so that the reader always wants to read the next page, next chapter, next book. So it seemed obvious to tell the reader only what s/he absolutely needs to know. That means starting a chapter mid-scene, plunging into the action, and cutting off right after the juicy bit. It means using dialogue to ‘show, not tell’ aspects like backstory. It means reading back every sentence after writing it and asking: Is this essential? Would the story suffer if I cut this?

Of course, no writer is capable of following the guidance all the time. Even Stephen King, author of On Writing and ardent proponent of axing the likes of slowly and wearily and sorrowfully and beautifully (‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs,’ he warns), admits that sometimes he just can’t bear to cut one from a sentence. And it is possible to go too far, to prune back so much that your once intriguing and compelling story becomes simplistic and stark. So as I wrote and then edited my books, I tried to strike a balance.

The best thing about taking this approach to writing is the honesty of the final endeavour – no waffle or ornamentations disguising a plot hole or general wooliness of concept. It’s also, I’ve found, by far the most fun way to write. Because if I don’t want to read the parts that readers skip, I sure as heck don’t want to write them either – yawn. 

And if I get carried away and at a later point realise a scene or part of a scene needs to go? Well, then I have new material for my ‘Cut’ file, which contains some decent writing that’s currently homeless, and some less-decent writing that must always remain homeless. Like the chapter formatted with strikethrough in which I heartlessly killed off a major character, and the lengthy, voyeuristic description of a hot guy surfing that screams ‘I watched Point Break last night’. Since axing those little gems I have amended the quote stuck on my noticeboard as follows:

Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip… and those you wrote while high on caffeine/a Patrick Swayze crush.



Blurb: IN SEARCH OF THE MEANING OF DEATH, SHE’LL FIND THE MEANING OF LIFE.

Seventeen-year-old Scarlett Blake is haunted by death. Her estranged sister has made the ultimate dramatic exit. Running away from school, joining a surfing fraternity, partying hard: that sounds like Sienna. But suicide? It makes no sense.

Following in her sister’s footsteps, Scarlett comes to the isolated cove of Twycombe, Devon, with grand plans to uncover the truth. Alone. But she hasn’t reckoned on meeting two boys who are determined to help her. Luke: the blue-eyed surfer who’ll see the real Scarlett, who’ll challenge her, who’ll save her. And Jude: the elusive drifter with a knack for turning up whenever Scarlett’s in need.

As Scarlett’s quest for the truth unravels, so too does her grip on reality as she’s always known it. Because there’s something strange going on in this little cove. A dead magpie circles the skies. A dead deer watches from the undergrowth. Hands glow with light. Warmth. Power.

What transpires is a summer of discovery. Of what it means to conquer fear. To fall in love. To choose life. To choose death.

To believe the impossible.

ExcerptWaves everywhere, swirling, surging, seething – a raging melange of foam and salt and inky water biting at me, pulling at me, thrusting upon me a solitary invitation: 

Death.

As I fought to remain on the flimsy polystyrene surfboard that seemed more bucking bronco than wave rider, I thought: That’s how easy it is – you just let go. Just release the grip on this world that in recent months had seemed so much an effort, and sink into the blue, beneath the waves, where chaos and fury turned to quiet and calm. Like she did.

Was drowning as they claim? I wondered. The easiest way to die – peaceful? How would it feel to give up all the dragging myself through the day, all the struggle to evade the aching void inside? A relief?

Another wave rose me up and slammed me down with breathtaking power. Its force stirred me. You could say a lot of things about Scarlett Blake – she’s a loner, she’s a wallflower, she’s a menace in the kitchen – but no way was ‘she’s a quitter’ on the list of character flaws.

‘Screw you!’ I shouted through the spray.  

Funny, sounded like someone shouted back. But who else would be out in this tumultuous sea at six a.m. on a summer’s morning? Solitude was the entire point of hauling myself out of bed in the still-dark and picking my way down the cliff path to the beach just in time to see the horizon light up with the first burnt-orange glow of the rising sun. No one to see me make a damn fool of myself on my first surfing attempt. 

‘Trying… yourself killed?’ 

Definitely a voice. Male. Angry. 

Scanning the surroundings for the source proved difficult while lying stomach-to-board. On an upward surge I got a glimpse of the Devonshire cliffs that fringed the cove, all dark, jutting rocks topped by bushes of gorse, and then a flash of the beach. On a downward plummet there was nothing but eye-burning, throat-choking seawater. 

‘Forward… next wave!’ 

The voice was closer now. There was an edge to it beyond the anger. Something raw. 

My eyes picked out a black form between the waves. Someone on a surfboard, paddling it expertly seaward. I took one hand off the board to push sticky tendrils of hair from my eyes. Rookie mistake. Turned out holding on one-handed was impossible. The board shot upwards, out of my feeble grip, and then it was just me and Old Man Sea.

Available for purchase atAmazon

Author Bio: Once upon a time a little girl told her grandmother that when she grew up she wanted to be a writer. Or a lollipop lady. Or a fairy princess fireman. 'Write, Megan,' her grandmother advised. So that's what she did.

Thirty-odd years later, Megan writes the kinds of books she loves to read: young-adult paranormal romance fiction. Young adult, because it's the time of life that most embodies freedom and discovery and first love. Paranormal, because she's always believed that there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. And romance, because she's a misty-eyed dreamer who lives for those 'life is so breathtakingly beautiful' moments.

Megan grew up in the Royal County, a hop, skip and a (very long) jump from Windsor Castle, but these days she makes her home in Robin Hood's county, Nottingham. She lives with her husband, a proud Scot who occasionally kicks back in a kilt; her son, a budding artist with the soul of a paleontologist; and her baby daughter, a keen pan-and-spoon drummer who sings in her sleep. When she's not writing, you'll find her walking someplace green, reading by the fire, or creating carnage in the kitchen as she pursues her impossible dream: of baking something edible.

Be sure to visit Megan at:  Website

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