Arrive Late and Leave Early

Here’s a trick.

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris
The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most important tricks I’ve learned is arrive late, and leave early. When writing, just pretend you’re trying to be some high society glamour plate. You wanna make an entrance, dontcha? You want everyone to look and point. The first requirement for that is that the other guests have to arrive before you do.

Writing fiction of any kind follows the same rules. I always ask myself how late into a scene does a reader need to be to see just what I want them to see. The answer is very late. Using my mechpilots as example, I make every effort to start the scene from a place of interest. In a scene from Redemption Lost, you open on the jump to the planet. This allows a little introspection and character building while Hopper does the part of the job that really gets to all my mech jockeys. Freefall. The goal is that the reader knows all he or she needs to know at the moment, we’re flying, and then we’re fighting.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times a character needs to walk the road, drive to town, go get the mail, but, sparingly, and with great caution. And, something needs to happen on that road. Let’s not spend five paragraphs in his head listening to him bemoan his status in society or something.

Most of us don’t think in those terms anyway. Think about your thought process. When you’re busy, you usually focus on the task, and while you may have the random thought or two about the meaning of life, you aren’t all introspective. You’re driving the kids to soccer.

Action, even in quiet moments is possible, In my novel Home is the Sailor, Ari goes looking for her navigator. He’s having some quiet time in the back garden, but he’s doing something. He’s practicing the space equivalent of Tai Chi. Even in this moment between these two characters, you can see more in actions than thoughts. Where Ra’dan is silent, disciplined and somewhat broody, the comparison is drawn between the two through Ari’s gregarious frustration and passionate response to her current situation. In other words, she interrupts his calm, and we get to see his affection for her, as well as learn new facts about his race.

Leaving early is one of those things we’re sort of programmed not to do. I can hear some of the protests now. Shouldn’t I finish my story? What does that mean?

This is pretty tricky for me, so I’m only giving you the advice I have. Just do it. Sometimes I don’t pick up the phone. Oh, I’ll feel like I should have, but there’s no law that says I have to pick up every phone call the moment it’s placed. It’s essentially the same thing.

Say that you’re writing a fairytale. The last fact of the story is he takes her to the castle and they live happily ever after. Do I need to show them getting in a magnificent carriage? Maybe. Do we need to follow that carriage up to the door of the castle and then trudge up the stairs which are probably considerable in number and exhausting to climb? No. The guy got the girl. The reader is smart enough to follow the rest of the action from there.

One of my favorite parts of writing is deciding just what I want people to see and when. What can I say? I’m power mad. It is also the best way of keeping your story from dragging along. Especially in Scifi, Fantasy and PRN sub-genres, you need to keep it moving at a good clip just to satisfy the type of reader you have. They are typically fans of action and thrills, as are we all.

So, keep it moving.  You’ll be fine.

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