Sunday, May 27, 2007

On writing and reading

I'm starting to get into the flow of the alternate history. I'm all of 14 pages into the manuscript, though I'd be much further along if I hadn't decided to rewrite Chapter One! I was doing the very thing I know better than to do--spending a dozen pages or so explaining Everything the Readers Need to Know or else they'd never understand my alternate world, what my protagonist, a real historical figure, had and hadn't accomplished when first we meet him, etc. And I was boring MYSELF silly. No reason to expect readers to be excited when I was yawning over the thing. So I went back and rewrote it so Our Hero is in Mortal Peril from the very first paragraph he comes on the scene. It's much better now.

One of these days I'll actually get the beginning right the first time. This is my fourth manuscript; you'd think I'd have learned by now that you don't lead with your explanations!

I think one of the reasons I find the dreaded infodump so very tempting as a writer is that as a reader I put a higher priority than normal on setting. It's not that protagonist and plot aren't important, but when I describe the appeal of beloved books or series, I talk about the setting. A new book in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series due out this summer means I get to visit Terre d'Ange again soon. Revisiting a favorite Aubrey/Maturin is taking a cruise on the Surprise. The Sharpe books are time travel to the Peninsular War, where I can fight alongside the South Essex. Granted, those settings wouldn't appeal so if I didn't also love the characters who inhabit them--it's not just visiting the places, it's getting to spend time with Phedre, Joscelin, and Imriel, or Jack and Stephen, or Sharpe and Harper. But the characters wouldn't come alive for me if the world they inhabit wasn't richly developed and intriguing.

Hence, my temptation to lead with way too much backstory and setting information. I want to show my readers what a good world I've built for them. Problem is, you can't do it that way.

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