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A Few Thoughts on Methods of Delivery and Perspective

December 7, 2012

This post is a belated one. My writing has been delayed in all aspects due to packing property, transfer, settling in, delayed mail. But that will all change soon. I’m here at KVSP; I’ve ordered 4 pens, writing tablets — all allowed from canteen — and I’ve a few ideas.

Last month I was reading Cristian Mihai’s bLog post on Kurt Vonnegut’s “8 Rules of Writing a Short Story.” I enjoyed his discussion very much. Rule 8, Vonnegut’s version: “Give your readers as much information as possible, ASAP. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” and Mihai’s rephrasing; “Give your readers enough information to understand what’s going on, where and why, but still want to finish the story…” Got me thinking about methods of delivering information, then as I began to write, perspective, which to me, seemed to go along with it.

I will not tell you there is a “right” or “wrong” way of delivering information relevant to your story (as Mihai pointed out, rule 8 worked great for Vonnegut in some of his stories). I will say that the writer must choose his or her method based on what is most suitable to their voice, style, AND THE STORY.

Methods of delivering info in a story include: dialogue, action, description, thought, exposition. You might be inclined to include description and thought as a form of exposition. Of course, throughout an entire story, the writer will likely employ all of these methods at some point. Now, here are two ways of employing these methods, in complete contrast to one another, and there’s alway the in-between, but I’ll discuss a story rife with hints and allusions and one with a deluge of information. (Be careful with the first and slower method, you do not want the story to get boring.)

The slow dispersal of information could work, as long as you don’t leave your readers completely in the dark. If you do it right, you will be able to make your readers wonder but be interested in the story and not be a a loss. I wrote a story, for example, called The Children of Bellevue. It takes place in a youth psychiatric ward. It begins with a 15 year old boy in a padded room emitting macabre screams, at times, recounting his suicide attempt in a singsong voice.. but you do not receive HIS whole story, or any of the children’s (why they are there, why the boy is in a padded room, etc.) until the staff member who is giving the tour of the facility to the a new staff member, explains it. I give you parts of the story, introducing you to the children at their various activities, switch perspective (this occurs a couple of times), and the staff gives you the rest.

Using the deluge method, I could have just told you all about the boy, his history, etc. right off the bat, which was how I did it in the first draft, but then the ending didn’t seem as good to me. I give you enough to discern you’re at a psych ward, the the children are “ill,”  the WHERE and WHY. As I said earlier, tactics depend on the writer’s style, voice and story; how the story is most efficiently and interestingly told.

As writers, we must continue to be creative, in more ways than just thinking up ideas but also in executing these ideas, or I should say: bringing them to life.

Here are a couple of examples of other ways to offer information to your readers: pertinent info can be given through a news broadcast or through a conversation heard through thin walls. Instead of just a dry explanation of what’s going on, make it interesting. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. Experiment. Discover what works for you. There are one or two stories I’ve written in one long, 5-7 hour draft and others have taken up to 6 drafts or more.

Now let me delve a little more into perspective. Who is telling your story or one particular part of your story? That’s what perspective is. Which one of your characters is telling the story? Ask yourself, if that’s the best one to tell your story. If the answer is “no,” change it.

The narrator could be a little old lady on the bus that  tells it, while the main characters are the man and woman in the row in front of her. Let’s say the couple are in a heated argument, going at each other in hushed tones. Or better, let’s say the couple are just coming from visiting the grave of her war veteran father at the cemetery. The little old lady listens to the story they tell, conveying the dialogue, etc. Does it affect her? Make her cry? Was her husband killed in a previous war? Is the couple crying? laughing? Just having a profound conversation about peace and war?

You could have one of the couple tell this story, but, I think, having the little old lady do it makes more interesting. She can observe the couple, the other passengers on the bus… Well, hey, you get the idea…

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2 Comments
  1. brianhmoll permalink

    It depends on what the purpose of your story is. Vonnegut, especially, was more of an idea writer than anything. His ideas and his characters were more important than his actual plot. Personally, I think people get too hung up on plot. There’s pretty much no such thing as an original plot.

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    • I cannot remember exactly how it went, but I was reading something Orson Scott Card wrote in the back of one of his books. I’m paraphrasing: Card was a bit irritated and expressed to one of his friends that his irritation was due to his trying and not being able to think up a wholly “original” plot, and his friend had basically responded that there were no “original” plots. What you did with the plot, or what your characters did with it, was where the originality came in. That’s how Card came up with the spin-off from his Ender’s Game Series called, Ender’s Shadow.

      I am working on a novel and my inspiration for it has come from (not equal parts) my life, the news, a book called A Child Called It, a V. C. Andrews book called Orphans, and other stuff. The basic plot of my story is a boy is adopted into a home where he finds a hellish / abusive situation not the love and family he had hoped for. That’s the gist of it, and the rest is up to my characters (the selfish, controlling woman; the confused, hopeful orphan). Since the significance of a plot comes about through the actions of the character, and significant actions take the character(s) toward the resolution of the predicament. The question this novel tries to answer is something I once heard in some movie or another: “Children are proof God is not discouraged; what keeps a child from losing faith?” I think that writing short stories has better prepared me for the task of writing this novel. I started it in the middle of ’08 and this will be the fifth draft.

      Unfortunately, I have only read about Vonnegut, but never any of his stories. I’ve heard and read good things about him and would like to find some of his work here in the prison library.

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