Monday, May 2, 2011

Silly little sidetrips

I wonder sometimes if anybody else had the same troubles I did telling stories when I was young, though the logical side of me knows that it's a common issue, at least enough so to have become a stereotypical problem: I rambled.  I rambled a lot.  I could sit down to tell a parent about what fun I'd had playing with neighborhood kids that day, and before you know it I was filling in details about the frog I'd seen and the bumps in the road that I'd almost tripped on and....  Get to the point, I was gently (and sometimes not so gently) told. 

Later, that GTTP (Get To The Point) message was reinforced by...well, nearly everyone.  Teachers certainly didn't want me rambling on with a roundabout slew of facts after they'd asked me a question in class.  My friends were the same; a group conversation had to tend toward terseness in order to be shared equally.  So I, like I suspect nearly every young boy does, slowly over the years developed a desire for GTTP stories.  Why speak a novel when a novella would do?  Why tell a novella when a short story sufficed?  And most of the time, with the colloquial stories we told each other, a five-paragraph essay proved too long.  "I took Barbara to the movie.  I kissed her.  It was good."  There.  Story done, on to next one.  Not that that ever happened, mind you; I don't remember knowing anybody named Barbara, and I sure don't remember taking many girls to the movies in my studious little childhood, but...well, that's what writing fiction is all about. 

Imagine my dismay, then, when I completed Part I and read it to my beloved only to be told that I didn't spend enough time in the silly little sidetrips I'd learned to avoid.  "What?  Who cares where Birch came from?" I asked, surprised that anybody might consider the question important enough to dent my otherwise straight-as-an-arrow plot arc. 

But, as usual, she was right, as proven by a dozen (so far) helpful and friendly alpha readers who have told me the same thing.  And, I have to admit, as proven by my reading, now that I'm paying attention.  I'm going through an audio copy of The Eye of the Needle now, not so much because I've developed any sort of love for spy thrillers--I haven't--but because it was Follett's break-out novel, the one he wrote after writing a few flops that made him into a star. 

It wasn't till I got into it that I recalled I had already seen the movie.  Then again, the movie was popular back when I was of an age where seeing women's breasts sent me all a-tizzie, and that was one of the two things I remember about that movie...Donald Sutherland's eyes being the other.  So, in a way, I'm glad that I'm reading the book now that I can see past boobies.  Usually, anyway.  In any event, I've been noticing, now that I'm paying attention ("boobies"...hehe...oh, sorry)...what was I saying?  Oh, yeah...Follett does it.  Wander down the silly little sidetrips, that is.  I just listened on the way home to the telling of the part where Faber and the wife meet, and...tiles from the roof?  Really?  But no, his talk of the issue of the roofing lends some realism and, in a way, serves to ground the story further. 

GTTP is still important, of course.  A story that just sits and spins around becomes boring, and people do the worst thing imaginable to a book that becomes boring...they put it down and don't read it.  But selected sidetrips, like, I guess, Birch's origins, are important to take. 

Word Count: 37,565

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