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Point of Telling
Lucy Silag
Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013 1:26 PM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359


Hi there, BC Members!

 

We just kicked off our first-ever #BCReadalong, a new idea we had where BC members can read a book and talk about it for a couple weeks here on the site.

 

Our book for the last 2 weeks of August is THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, a contemporary YA title by Stephen Chbosky (it's also one of Book Country's Landmark Titles). I had been wanting to read it forever, and it's that "back to school" time of year, so I thought: no time like the present!

 

Anyway, today I asked the community a question about the "point of telling" in PERKS. The narration is done through letters that the main character is sending to an anonymous recipient. It made me start to think about the ways that writers use this conceit of writing their story in letters. It's fairly common, and I was wondering what you all think about that strategy in a more general sense. I thought that would be a good topic for this Discussion Board, as well: What are you thoughts about writing "a novel in letters"?

 

That got me thinking about larger issues around "point of telling." Point of telling is one of those things that is SO crucial to writing a novel. I came across this awesome explanation of point of telling here. Definitely a post for the writer's toolbox.

 

In the books that you all are working on now, what's your "point of telling"? How did you decide what the point of telling should be?

 

Share below!

--edited by Lucy Silag on 8/18/2013, 1:27 PM--


Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013 9:40 PM
What are you thoughts about writing "a novel in letters"? 

 

What's to think about? It's called epistolary format, and historically it's not been all that popular. But of more importance, presenting a story in that format has no hard link to what publishers mean when they label some piece of writing "telling." Basically, when a publisher lsays that they mean it's in a report-like format, and fact-based. Often it's an overview, or presented as a chronicle of events.
 
Fiction, though, is emotion based, and we read to have our own emotions stimulated, not learn that someone in a story has them. We read a horror story to be made to be afraid to turn out the lights, not learn the events of the story in detail. Read The Diary of Ann Frank and you will become emotionally involved, because she makes the events of her days live for the reader. Yet it's entirely epistolary.
 
Exposition need not be dispassionate. The Last Unicorn, is told almost entirely in exposition. But as it's told the author constantly raises questions in the reader's mind, which the narrator artfully handles almost immediately, creating the illusion of an interactive conversation between reader and writer. No telling there, though the voice is always that of the narrator.
 

Exposition is necessary, of course. Telling is not.

 

The exception is when we need to skip over a time when nothing exciting is happening, but of which the reader needs to know. There's where the author steps in and uses a report format to sum up those events and "sew" the active scenes, before and after, together.

 

The thing that too many hopeful writers forget is that every history book is telling about the events in a way that there's no sense of immediacy and no uncertainty. The events it describes are immutable. But how many of us cheered when the teacher said, "Okay class, open your history book and read pages 218 through 234."?



Lucy Silag
Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013 10:03 AM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359


Hi Jay--I think we're talking about two different things--below you write (very nicely, I might add) abt some of the pitfalls of too much exposition, but I was actually trying to ask about "point of telling," i.e. the point in time from which the story is told. Sorry not to have been clearer!
Lucy Silag
Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013 10:03 AM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359


PS: LOVE it when I learn names for stuff in writing. Epistolary format! Yes.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013 9:25 PM
Lucy Silag wrote:
Hi Jay--I think we're talking about two different things--below you write (very nicely, I might add) abt some of the pitfalls of too much exposition, but I was actually trying to ask about "point of telling," i.e. the point in time from which the story is told. Sorry not to have been clearer!
 
I think it's inherent in why people read, which is for entertainment. Unless we're talking from that tiny slice of time the protagonist calls "now," we can only be telling, in the sense I mentioned above. Look at how you and I live our lives. From the moment of waking till sleep claims us, our lives are an unending chain of cause and effect, motivation and response. Something catches our attention. Without thought we catagorize it as to its importance to us. We evaluate our options and our needs against our available resources, and finally, decide on a course of action—our response. That can take a millisecond of intuitive response or an hour of thought, as the situation and the person's makeup decide.In dialog each person's words are the motivation that the other uses to craft a response. It's interesting that most people realize and use that when writing dialog, so a new writer's stretches of dialog will read more natural, in feel, than does their action.
 
Inherent in our response to what holds our attention, are the seeds of what will next hold our attention: the doorbell rings and we wonder who's there. We think over the possibilities. Perhaps we hurry to the back door and run from the house. Perhaps we reach for the pistol we have lying on the dresser. Perhaps we go to the window to see who's there. Or perhaps we simply go to the door and open it. But until we complete our decided action we may notice many things but pay no attention to them. Jumping out of the protagonist's POV to talk to the reader, as ourself—someone who is neither in the story or on the scene—kills momentum and distances the reader from the action.
 
And because when we act, or speak, we can only guess if our decision is the proper one, our lives are filled with uncertainty. And on the page, it's uncertainty that draws the reader in. It's what they feed on.
 
Can we really present our characters in any other way and have them seem real? If we, as the author, are giving a synopsis of events, how immediate can that feel to the reader who expects to share the experience, not just learn about it?
 
Basically, what I described is not only how we live, but the writing technique known as MRU: motivation response units. A decent overview of the technique can be found here:  http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php


 

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