1. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    Feel like my characters keep making speeches

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Novalee Phoenix, Aug 10, 2014.

    Ok, so I'm writing a fantasy/scifi novel where my main character goes into training and other characters explain things to her. She has a lot of new things to learn, so there are several instances where someone is explaining something to her and there is a sizable paragraph of just one character speaking, sometimes more. It gives me the impression of making a speech, and I am worried I might be dumping too much information on the reader. How could I change this? Would this bother you as a reader? Does a big paragraph of dialogue seem unnatural? Any thoughts are appreciated!
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would usually bother me, yes. Do you have examples--or can you make one up? Does the reader actually need the information, or just the character?
     
  3. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    Hmm, I'm not sure. I will pick out an example.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I add my own example: Let's imagine that Jane is going to cooking school. You could have paragraphs of her teacher explaining how to peel and cut. Or you could have a summary:

    Morning was all knife work, from the least to the most precise. Chopped onion. Minced onion. Steak fries. Shoestring fries. Radish rosebuds. Tiny julienne strips. By noon, Jane's hands were exhausted. All her work went into the compost, and the teacher promised that they'd do it all over again the next morning.
     
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  5. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    Ok, please be gentle. This is only my first draft, and this is fresh and unedited. I only just wrote it last night. This is one of several instances.

    "Good. In mental combat, you must use your imagination to create obstacles for your opponent as well as to break through your own obstacles. The more creative you are, the harder it will be for opponent to counter your attacks. During your time with me, I will teach you the common tricks used during mental combat as well as ways to counter them. Once you have mastered the basics, we will spend our time sparring, limited only by the strength of our imaginations.
    "The most basic technique of mental combat is the exploitation of your opponent's fears. While you fight, your Molecumorph will not just sit there idly. The Soul Corruptors draw their power from imps, which are the dark counterparts of Molecumorphs. Your Molecumorph will be in a mental struggle with the Soul Corruptor's imp, each fighting to break through the other's mental defenses in order to glean useful information about the other's host. Your molecumorph's job is to find weaknesses in the Soul Corruptor. These weaknesses generally manifest themselves as fears. Once your Molecumorph discovers a fear that the Soul Corruptor you are fighting against has, they will inform you through your mental link. You will then use that information to your advantage, by conjuring that fear. For example, let's say your Molecumorph finds out that your opponent is afraid of a certain animal. You will then will a replica of that animal into being and control it's movements with your mind until your opponent either overcomes their fear or makes a vital mistake during physical combat. If you have been successful in exploiting their fear, this will likely allow you to win the fight. If not, you try another tactic. Do you understand so far?"
    "Yes. What, then, are the other basics of mental combat?" I asked, eager to learn more.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In this specific case, I think that I would suggest skipping over almost all of this pre-training summary and going straight to the training, in dialogue form. Random example:

    Mr. Smith said, "In mental combat, you use your imagination to create obstacles for your opponent, as well as break through your own obstacles."

    John nodded, trying his darndest to look as if he understood. "Um.. OK."

    Mr. Smith grinned. "Not a clue, huh? OK. You have nightmares, right? Mental combat is like making your own nightmares go away, and building nightmares for someone else."

    "And they're trying to do the same thing to me?"

    "Yep."


    and so on and so on. Now, eventually you'll switch to narrative summary, but that's narrative summary, rather than using a character to summarize with a speech. And maybe that would be my general advice--a speech will very often be a device to compress a lot of ideas or events, but that compression should be done in narrative summary, rather than in a speech.

    But if you have another example, I may have a different opinion. :)
     
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  7. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    You are definitely right. I need to break it up more. I unfortunately have several spots where this happens. The excerpt above has more dialogue paragraphs after it. I was going to post a bigger excerpt but I thought I'd start with that one. If you are willing, I could post what comes after or find a different spot where this happens.
     
  8. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    There's too much detail in this example and it's boring to read and will slow the pace down. Think about the dialogue used by Yoda when training Luke or by Mr Miyagi in the Karate Kid. We don't hear the details we just here them giving words of wisdom that are memorable to the audience.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that we're skating into something that belongs in the review room, and given your number of posts I think that would violate the review room rules. That said, I'm perfectly willing to look at it, I just don't know if it's still appropriate here, or if you'd need to go to a private conversation.
     
  10. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    What you need to realize is that no one cares about the training scene. That shit is for movies, and there's a reason they all get broken into montages. You audience doesn't give a shit about what your characters have learned. They aren't going off to become space marines, so why should you treat them like they are?

    The only time your reader wants that kind of information is when it directly relates to the action. You'll notice that Ender never mentions the classes he has outside his battles. Or that Harry Potter only learns the spells he's going to use in the next scene.

    Get to the action and then, if you must, give us a flashback.
     
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  11. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    Yeah, you're right. That's another reason I didn't post a bigger excerpt. Didn't want to break the rules. Need to increase my post count and do my critiques first. If you'd like to read more and give advice, I'm good with a private conversation. I do think it's a good idea to break up those dialogue paragraphs that I have. I don't want to bore the reader.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm fine if you want to do the private conversation, and I think it's legal; hopefully moderators will tell us if it's not.

    I do agree with Jack Asher that most of the training is also unnecessary. I was going to say that my advice is based on times when the information in the speech is necessary, but it occurs to me that perhaps the "speech" information is almost always unnecessary--perhaps that explains why it can be compressed into a non-interactive speech?
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Yes, you need to meet the requirements and post some of your work in the Workshop, or find a critique group.

    Instead of looking for how to fix a certain paragraph, consider learning some principles then applying the principles yourself to the other sections.

    In this section, you are trying to tell the reader too much (as others have said). Instead of teaching us, the reader, what your character is learning, pick out a few things that give the reader the feel of the training session, but don't worry about giving the actual lesson.

    This kind of information:
    "While you fight, your Molecumorph will not just sit there idly. The Soul Corruptors draw their power from imps, which are the dark counterparts of Molecumorphs. Your Molecumorph will be in a mental struggle with the Soul Corruptor's imp,..."
    is better revealed by scenes that show it during the story.
     
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  14. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    I agree that training generally doesn't need to be written about in great detail. What little of it I plan to include is relevant though. The above excerpt is from her first day of training. I plan on editing what I wrote, but I still want to include much of the information. I just don't want it to be a speech, and I was unsure how to change it.
    Thanks for the helpful input, I do appreciate it.
     
  15. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Breaking it up is a simplistic way of looking at it. My big thing lately about writing is creating an engaging narrative- often, this entails context, as in relating the information, events, and setting, to the main character.

    By going on and on and on with your speech, as shown above, there is no context, no connection to your MC, and thus a boring narrative. By "breaking it up" you're essentially weaving your information into a cohesive, engaging narrative.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This is your first hurdle (or maybe not the first), figuring out that you can get this same information in without the exposition you are using.

    http://alpha.spellcaster.org/2010/08/02/the-four-ps-of-exposition/
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wandering back to your example, I'm also seeing some overexplaining. To analogize, let's imagine that you explain the process of eating dinner at a restaurant:

    First, you decide that you want some food. Then, you consider a list of foods, called a menu. Then, the server, called a waiter or waitress, asks you what food you would like. Then, you tell the server what food you would like. Then, the server tells the kitchen what food you would like. Then the employee in the kitchen, called a chef or a cook, either prepares your food or directs other cooks to prepare it. Then another employee, called the busboy, brings you the food...

    It's all accurate, but it's also unnecessarily detailed, right? It all adds up to:

    At a restaurant, you can pay for a meal of your own choice--within a limited set of choices.

    That leaves out some information--the fact that there's a professional cook, the fact that that cook is a different person from the person who takes your order, and so on. But that information isn't really critical to a basic understanding of the concept.

    Similarly, the example speech adds up to:

    In mental combat, you use your opponent's fears against him, and he tries to do the same to you. I'll teach you how this works.

    Much of the rest of the speech--the fact that you use your imagination, the fact that creativity is good, the fact that you research your opponent's fears and you conjure up his fears and he fights his fears, the fact that the teacher will be teaching these things and you'll be practicing these things... is implied. The details, and the terminology, can be uncovered in more direct interaction.
     
  18. jannert
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    Yes, exactly. I was reading through this thread thinking ...where is the POV character in all this? How is this information being received? I think this observation plus @ChickenFreak's suggestions are the way to go here.

    I suspect you're just giving us information you think we need to know here. It's just information disguised as dialogue.

    Maybe try putting yourself in the instructor's shoes? What is the instructor doing while he/she gives this speech? What tone of voice, what kind of stance? How do these things change as the speech goes on? Surely the instructor isn't just intoning all this dry stuff without moving, pointing, looking individuals in the eye, etc? Pretend you are the person giving this speech. Slow down and get right into this instructor's head if your instructor is the POV character. What does the instructor see, looking out at this group of slack-jawed neophytes?

    If the instructor is not the POV character, you'll need to frame this to show what the POV character (in the audience, presumably) is SEEING the instructor do. Also inject a few reaction thoughts. What does your POV character think of some of these instructor's statements? You could even have the POV character interrupt to ask the instructor a question or two, if this is appropriate in this setting. If the POV character needs to understand something, an explanation will help the reader as well.

    The reader doesn't know (unless it's all been explained in earlier chapters) what Molecumorphs are, or Soul Corruptors or imps. Does the POV character know what the instructor is talking about here? If not, have the POV character ask questions. If the POV character DOES know what these things are, then maybe remind the reader in some way. "I thought Soul Corrupters could only be defeated using strips of bacon and electrodes."

    Another method would be for the instructor to use a couple of experienced fighters as a demonstration, while explaining. That's visual, and might work, as long as it's not just a series of fighting stances, whacks and chops. What does the POV character think these two 'model' fighters look like in this scene? Are they being playful? Serious? One serious, one playful? Both determined? Totally focused? Is there one of the two who seems better at this discipline?

    All sorts of ways to do this. But keep in mind the one most important thing. This information has got to stick with the reader. Just a recitation of complicated facts won't stick, even if the reader does follow them. You need to create a few images here, to drive the message home.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
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  19. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    As a person who lectures for a living, the best thing you can do for an audience as a lecturer is allow spaces for input...or give us, the reader, a break and tell us of thoughts, or actions. If it is CORE, as in, it explains the ideas of the world and how it works (Think 1984, or Starship Troopers), then it can work. Generally, it could turn people off, especially if it is overdone.
     
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  20. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you'd be better off including a lot of information in a scene of the sparring itself. Rather than a speech saying, "this is what we're going to do." Skip to the characters actually doing it.
    It can be a better teaching method to get your students to try the practical application of things one at a time, rather than infodumping everything on them at the start- and storywise that means you're alternating action with info.
     
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  21. Novalee Phoenix
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    Novalee Phoenix Member

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    Each of you makes a good point. It will be more interesting for the reader if I include action. More memorable as well. I think I will change things so that my MC will learn by doing and that will space out the critical information.
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    One question to ask might be this: would you like to read all that if you weren't the author and you'd just picked that book off the shelf? Would you keep reading if that's the first excerpt you flipped open to standing in a book shop?

    If the answer to either question is no, then you know what you gotta do.

    Another thing is - you might think the reader needs to know something, when in fact they don't. As Jack Asher said earlier on - unless these principles, the exact ones you're writing, somehow play a big role in the plot later or in a twist, the likelihood is, it doesn't belong in the story.
     
  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just wanted to point out that both 1984 and Brave New World climax with several pages of info dumping speeches. It happens and it works.
     
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  24. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    And the climax to Atlas Shrugged is a 15 page monologue. But Orwell, Huxley, and Rand were all
    1.) established writers
    2.) writing deeply intellectual social commentary (or in Rand's case commentary).

    You'll excuse me I hope, when I say the original poster's excerpt did not seem like social commentary.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    And Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged is regularly criticized for the info dump. ;)
     

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