Uncle Orson's Writing Class

Donald sat in the corner of the room, barely illuminated by the dim moonlight filtering through the window. He was trembling badly; the events of the last few hours still storming through his mind. How the hell could he have known? How could he have known? He brought his shaking hands up to his face, and as he hid behind them the smell of fresh gunpowder brought the sickening moment back to him in full force. [Excerpt from a writing sample.]

What you’re doing with this kind of opening is: You are forcing us to face the character’s raw emotions without giving us any information about the story or any reason to care about the character. It is the opposite of how it has to work. We should not face the emotions until we completely understand the entire situation so that we will feel those emotions ourselves — and then the character does not have to “tremble badly” and waste our time sitting around while memories “storm” through his mind. —Orson Scott CardUncle Orson’s Writing Class (Hatrack River)

Orson Scott Card is a science-fiction author whose website includes a wealth of free writing advice. The same lesson also mentions “another common but killer mistake. You are trying to establish his point of view, to see the world through his eyes. However, this description is completely from outside himself — in fact, it consists of the omniscient viewpoint in which the author talks to the reader, and the character is viewed as through a telescope, from a distance.”

I think both issues stem from the tendency of beginning writers to first visualize a scene from a movie, so that their transcription into prose relies too much on external visuals and sounds, rather than on the internal emotions that prose narrative conveys so well.

(Thanks for pointing out the OSC website, Josh.)