Several friends of mine commented on the writing style of my book, Cover of Darkness. Their comments were it read like you were in a hurry to finish the novel, while others pointed out that the characters seemed thin and without back-story. Valid comments I suppose, but I have to admit some things about writing this book.
Firstly, this book of mine had to be different from the ones that I've written previously. It was a detective thriller, and I wanted it to rock and roll! I wanted a roller coaster ride for my reader. And I wanted to do away with the one thing that I am learning not to use. Exposition.
There's an old adage that goes something like this: Don't tell...show. I want to live by that now. I want to write characters that live their feelings. That own themselves, and are not afraid to show it. I hate needless exposition, deep character introspection, and vapid flashbacks of childhood events. I think these so called 'art forms' are creating a public that doesn't want to think. And then, when they go out in the real world and they find that they can't read minds, and that people don't spill their life histories on your plate before you, unless they're roaring drunk, and that they can't go back in time to re-live events unless under hypnosis, they feel confused. Real life isn't like that, and that's what I wanted this book to feel like...real life.
So without the flashbacks and the back-stories and the expositions, the book had an energy that moved it. It became muscular, skeletal, fast and furious. Yes, it felt rushed because there were no brakes on the story, just cold, hard facts and characters that lived life, not explained it. It became just the way I wanted it. Not slow and clunky, fat like a cow and moving like a sloth but instead, it had energy and a vibrancy that challenged the reader.
Come on! We are writers. We should do the hard stuff, and you'll find that when you do your characters will have a real life of their own, not one conjured up in a lab. You'll find that you will not be insulting your reader's intelligence when you do this. If your character is an alcoholic, have him frequent bars and liquor stores every other scene. If he's a recovering alcoholic, have him going in and out of AA meetings. Don't just say: "Keith was an alcoholic." Or, "Keith was in recovery." It's short. It's messy, as simple as that. You lose the chance to introduce interesting side characters, and real feel. Feel, meaning the smell of an AA meeting, stale coffee and cigarettes and hard assed doughnuts. Tired looking attendees, some spry and wide eyed from too much Coca-Cola while others are wilted like dead ferns. And I don't mean to explain it like this, but to have these characters walk about, talk to your protagonist, talk amongst each other to give the AA meeting a feel.
Have your characters DO, not think or explain. You'll get more out of your manuscript, more color, more tempo, more verve. This is what I wanted in my book. I wanted characters that came and went, like in real life. You meet them for a minute and you have only a minute to come up with an opinion of them, just like in real life. Some one walks in the room and begins insulting individuals by jesting, cutting everyone he passes off at the knees. You can see that he's an asshole. Then, why do so many writers have this character walk into the room, and the protagonist explains: "Jeff was an asshole." And then, deep exposition as to what made him so.
And I don't even mean a brief statement. Too many writers go into Jeff and his antics on the job and when he was a youth, and how his father was overbearing and his mother cloyingly loving. What are you trying to do? Put the reader to sleep? I call these 'Resume Characterizations.' The writer writes this ridiculous resume about a character, including the protagonist and antagonist, and goes on an on with so much...well what else can I call it but...shit. They pile it up, slowing down the book, reveal too much about the motivations of the character and the worst of it all, exposes the writer's hubris.
Yes, hubris, because we know you've worked hard on this character's back-story. You've spent hours on his/her motivations, where they came from, who their parents were, where they were born. You slaved over this information, so now, you have to spoon feed it to your readers. Like pap to a babe, you have to stuff their toothless mouths with your hours of hard work through needless exposition. That's not what a back-story is for. It's for you. It's to help you nail down your character's motivations and outlook. If a glimmer of their history peeks during a conversation, that's good. But to give the reader paragraphs of your "Resume Characterizations" you are only killing your book, in my opinion.
Yes, Cover of Darkness was written to be a bare, lean, animal. A feral child fighting to feed itself in the harsh hinterland. It is a nasty book with ragged characters, and needless violence. Yeah, I said it myself. But it mirrors life, with it's ragged individuals, nasty outcomes and needlessly vicious people. I wanted my book to be a decent into hell, and what better way to get there than in an empty, burning, quickly plummeting hand-basket. I wanted to grab the reader and run, making them chase their interest rather than carefully walk through my story with a magnifying glass aimed just inches ahead of their shoes. I wanted a book that you can sit down and read in one sitting or over the weekend.
That's what I was trying to accomplish, and I guess I did. People who've read Cover of Darkness are quick to say that it moved like lightning to it's finish, it was a straight shot to a crazy conclusion. Many of my readers enjoyed the book, and that's, to me, an exposition right there. A long one, meaning, in short, that their comments are music to my ears.
I love my fans.