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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories discusses...

Dramatizing Stories

with Ed Kyatt

How can you keep readers — especially on-line readers — interested and “on the page with you”? A discussion gives some helpful tips.

Hi, Don,

Is it all right to find inspiration in movies? I find that when I write stories they play out like a film in my head, and I’m talking everything from the visuals to the characters’ mannerisms and dialogue.

What are your thoughts on that? Am I doing a disservice to the world of literature? I still read a lot, of course, but I also watch a lot of movies.


Hi, Ed,

This is almost funny. First, please don’t worry about film being a “disservice to the world of literature”! Film is a form of literature, just as stage plays or radio dramas are, as well as other genres.

You’ve also said in slightly different words what I’ve often told contributors, especially ones who write lengthy narration. I tell them basically two things:

• On-line readers may use a mobile device or a desktop computer but, either way, they are not ensconced in an easy chair with a book. They can’t mark their place with a thumb or with a flyleaf if they happen to be interrupted unexpectedly or take a side trip to the fridge or elsewhere.

For that reason, on-line readers are a notoriously impatient lot, and the really astute ones develop a time-saving habit. They scroll to the first instance of dialogue. They figure a story really begins only when a character moves or says something.

We can find examples in this very issue:

Edward Ahern’s “Playing the Mark” is in cinematic mode;
Charles C. Cole’s “When I Knew Big Foot” resembles a radio play;
and Chelsea McGlynn’s “Knits and Knots” depicts a state of mind.

They all begin with action and dialogue, and the stage setting fills in around the characters.

• Like a film or stage director, the writer gives the characters props and scripts and then mentally turns them loose on the stage of imagination. Like a member of a theater audience, the author watches the characters tell the story.

And a director does not interrupt the action by stopping the play, shoving the actors aside, and reciting an explanation to tell the audience what to think. The ancient “Greek chorus” commentary — intended for inattentive spectators — is now quite quaint!

Let’s take the most difficult opening to a story. How can one begin an “interior” story, where the narrator is thinking? And let’s ramp up the difficulty to full volume: how can you begin a story where the narrator is not only thinking but is half-asleep?

Marcel Proust does it in his masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu (‘The Quest for Time Lost’ or ‘Remembrance of Things Past’), which is over a million words long. It begins with: Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure, ‘For a long time I’ve gone to bed early.’ It begins with action, and the narrator directly addresses the reader.

That almost “in your face” line introduces a scene in which the narrator experiences an interior world halfway between sleeping and waking. A reader would have to be sound asleep to think it’s dull. On the contrary, it’s animated by action verbs and imagery of sight, sound and emotion. It does what we tell all contributors we want to help them do: “Keep the readers on the page with you.”


Copyright © March 5, 2018
by Ed Kyatt and Don Webb

Responses welcome!

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