Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It's a very personal thing

(originally posted July 27, 2009)

Almost from the beginning I realized that telling a story is a very personal thing. There is no right way, no wrong way. The proof is in what works. That's as true for the reader as the teller.

Even among the experts, those differences hold true. The professional judging criticism I have received  illustrates that. What one judge praised (albeit faintly) as my "dialogue based" style was seen by another as “lacking in detail and description, the texture that brings a story to life.” 

You will find no flights of scene setting description or lengthy personal description in these stories. For some that may be disconcerting. It may feel like they are operating with incomplete information. The fact is, I tend to let my characters tell their own stories, in their own words and thoughts, with as little narrative interference as possible. I realize that most "experts" do it differently. That’s one reason they’re professional and published, and I am an unpublished amateur. 

So why have I arrived at my  approach? Because it’s my way. As a writer who doesn’t have to worry about what sells, I get to do that. Besides, you may not be surprised to hear that I have a theory about why my stories turn out that way.

Perhaps like you, I'm a child of the radio generation. For reasons I find hard to explain to my grandchildren, I grew up spending hundreds of hours in the front room, staring intently at the big Philco upright, while the dramas I followed (from the Lone Ranger to Boston Blackie) were played out in nothing more than spoken dialogue, and mood setting sounds and music. With only those minimal prompts to pull me along, it was left to my imagination to fill in the visual details of the characters and their settings, to paint my own pictures of the action they depicted.

Is that why I lean toward a dialogue driven (both spoken and internal) format to tell my story? As long as I provide a minimally furnished stage on which my characters can play out their roles, is it fair to expect the reader to fill in the colors and fabrics? I know there was a time that worked for me. After all, how else would I have known that Sam Spade looked just like my dad?


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