Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Connecting the Dots in Your Writing

Happy Wednesday Blogsphere! I spent the last several days trying to think of topics to post on and nothing specific came to mind. I just wasn't feeling inspired. I figured I could cobble something presentable together but I really wanted to have a purpose behind my post.

Luckily for me I had a chance to do a lot of editing and critiquing this week. I noticed that I kept on focusing on the same problem over and over again in the stories I was critiquing and especially in my own writing.

The issue that kept on popping up was connecting the dots between the ideas in each paragraph. Having a consistent thread throughout the writing and a good flow between paragraphs. In other words, making sure that each sentence had a purpose and that it fit well with all the writing surrounding it.

This is a kind of a hard idea to wrap your head around but it's also very important. When information is inserted without feeling like a natural part of the story it feels forced. It's important not only that every sentence and paragraph has a purpose, but also that they feel connected together so the writing is seamless. Otherwise the reader starts to feel the not-so-gentle touch of the narrator guiding the story.

I don't know about you but often I benefit from having an example. For lack of a better option, I'll use the material you just read as my example. Here are the basic concepts I address in the first four paragraphs (I separated them into four paragraphs to make the individual points easier to identify).
  • I needed to find a subject for a blog post
  • While editing I came across a problem to talk about in my blog post
  • The problem I wanted to discuss is not connecting ideas together when writing
  • This is why this problem is important to discuss
Now while this isn't a perfect example you can see how one point flows into the next. The first two points are connected by the idea that I needed to talk about something today on the blog. The last three points all deal with the thing that I wanted to discuss. The transition between them *hopefully* makes sense.

I could have used the following points instead.
  • I needed to find a subject for a blog post
  • This week I edited and critiqued a lot of writing
  • One of the things people do wrong when they write is not connecting together ideas
  • Readers don't like information dumps
Hopefully you can see how these ideas, while related, in this particular arrangement feel disconnected and disjointed. I haven't put the effort in to show the reader how one idea connects to the other. So how do we fix this?

First, edit with an eye looking for this problem and ask your critique partners to do so as well. Identify sections that don't seem to have a clear connection to the writing around them. Keep an eye out for information dumps and seemingly unnecessary exposition. Imagine the writing as a conversation between you and the reader. Would they be able to see how you made it from point A to point B?

Second, outline what you want the reader to know. This includes not only the action that is happening but also what the character is thinking, what you want the reader to know about the character through his or her actions, and what background information you want the reader to know.

Third, organize your outline and make sure that there is a connection between each successive point. Often this means giving just a little extra information to connect the different points.

Let's look at another example (I'm not being particularly imaginative with this example but it will do =). Say we have a girl who is being sacrificed to a hungry dragon terrorizing her village. Our outline of what we want the reader to know might look like this:
  • MC is strapped to a post on a rock outcropping, ready to be sacrificed to a dragon
  • She is terrified but doesn't try to escape
  • She loves her family and volunteered to be the sacrifice a younger sibling
  • The dragon has been terrorizing the village for years but will leave them alone if they offer up a human sacrifice once a year
  • She was betrothed to a boy back home
  • Her one regret is that she is going to die right when she was starting to fall in love with him
Now let's fill in the gaps so that we can clearly see the connection between ideas:
  • MC is strapped to a post on a rock outcropping, ready to be sacrificed to a dragon
  • She is terrified but doesn't try to escape because she would die to protect the people she loves
  • The dragon has been terrorizing the village for years but will leave them alone if they offer up a human sacrifice once a year
  • She thinks about the younger brother she left behind who was chosen to be the sacrifice and whose place she volunteered to take
  •  Her family will be safe from now on since only one sacrifice can be taken from each family
  • Her only regret about dying is leaving behind her betrothed who she was just starting to fall in love with
Hopefully as you read over the second version the transition feels more natural. In the second version we have a little more information about the situation that helps us understand how each point is connected. Those are all of the suggestions I have for today. What are your thoughts? Did you think the examples worked? Any suggestions on how you would (or have) fixed this problem?


  1. This is something I'm trying at the moment as I work through filling in the gaps in my first draft. How can I make the ideas flow naturally? I think what you've highlighted here is the need to expand on the character's motivations, and how the consequences of those flow into the next action. The next events in the story need to arise naturally from those preceeding them, and as a result of conscious character choices.

    1. I've been editing with this in mind recently as well and I think you are exactly right. Hope the first draft is going well!