Goal of everything I write is to teach some truth or impart a little piece of knowledge into someone’s life. I don’t write frivolously, although I will admit the task of writing is fun (and simultaneously ardous), the intention is not simply for entertainment. When I am writing, at least the current books, poems, etc., I am working on, are all built around some ideas or ideals that are self-contained metaphors. I don’t write to reflect current culture but rather create worlds that may, or may not, parallel current events or situations I find fascinating.
To give you a for instance, in my current novel Graveyard of Dreams, which started long ago (five, six years ago to be precise) as simply the backstory of a villain in a video game I liked. This “plot” was a juvenile goal that began to grow beyond its simplistic confines as soon as I took the task of writing. The next step in its evolution was that I wanted to create an anti-hero. Someone you wanted to cheer for but put you up against the moral qualm of his “means to an end” approach. Or it didn’t because that fit your moral paradigm but it at least brought that worldview into the forefront.
However, that skeleton was far too devoid of muscle for my taste, so the nest step was to add a world of conflict and opposing views that could further fuel my machinations. My inspiration was drawn from three video games Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock Infinite. Each of these games did (or are doing since Bioshock Infinite is just currently being released) revolutionary things. They combined story, atmosphere, ideology, and scenery to create one complete vision.
I wanted to reflect that same design. So the world that my character inhabits is artificial and for good reason (which I won’t spoil). Built in some improbably fashion beneath the ancient remains of a simultaneously more advanced and far more primitive culture, at least in the eyes of the general populace. Add a cult that worships and wishes to control these spires and a government that, much like the Matrix, is hiding things from its citizens for its own reasons, and you have the recipe for difficult choices.
I now had my anti-hero. I now had a world he could inhabit that would give him meaningful choices. Choices that would force you, the reader, to look at your own moral compass and determine whether he could be held accountable for his actions or if he was coerced, or even brainwashed, into those actions. I now had my vision.
This was not an easy process and, in fact, I had to scrap over one hundred and forty pages of a nearly finished version of my book to realize this goal. The version I am currently writing is only thirty pages long but is already far better. One very good reason is a technique that I am gleefully borrowing from the aforementioned games: deleting “cutscenes” wherever I can.
Now I know what you’re thinking, books don’t have “cutscenes”. And in essence, you are right. However, books do have “text dumps” where the author is forced to give page after page of exposition about the world, the people, etc., to give the world context. I abhor such practices because it doesn’t allow for the exploration of the world by you, the reader. Instead, you are treated to a tour where you are force-feed knowledge you don’t need and will tune out at every possible convenience.
This technique is so prevalent in books you probably have no reference by which to judge their success. Let me give you two examples, both are excerpts from my book, to show the difference. Each are detailing the world the main character, Mitch, lives in.
Except 1: First draft of Graveyard of Dreams
“As the haze of sleep slowly lifted from my mind, I thought back to the night before and the dreams or should I say dream that haunted me relentlessly. The images came rushing back like a flood, overwhelming me. A feeling akin to being doused in ice-cold water, leaving my body covered in a glistening sheen of bone-chilling perspiration. This quickly broke me loose from the fog of sleep and drove all thoughts of sleep from my mind.
If only I could wrap my mind around the mystery of why I was having this same dream over and over again, then maybe I could have peace. Even if it was momentary, it would still be a respite from this endless cycle of feverish dreams and exhausted mornings. My mind needed a break or, I feared, it might break. I wanted to sleep so badly.
The dreams were trying to tell me something and I wasn’t getting the message. Almost as if it was a bad transmission or a fragmented message or I was just broken, which I had already come to suspect and had plenty of evidence in favor of.”
Excerpt 2: Second draft of Graveyard of Dreams
“The hologram blinked close and Mitch checked the time. It was only quarter after six. Far too early to be conscious. He groaned, wishing he could crawl back under the covers, but he got up nonetheless. He threw on a jacket and a pair of raggedy jeans and stumbled his way out of his bedroom.
He plopped unceremoniously down at the table and slumped as far down as the chair would allow.
His mom raised an eyebrow at his entrance. “Dramatic entrance, princess.” She moved around their kitchen flipping eggs, turning over pancakes. “Why are you tired lately?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.
Mitch paused, unsure of how to respond. Bursts of images from the night before flashed through his mind: “He’s losing a lot of blood get him to the ER quick!” Hospital beds and hospital gowns. Cold eyes staring at him through goggles and white masks. “I don’t think he’s going to make it! His breathing has slowed way down.” His skin still felt icy cold and the feeling of déjà vu was overwhelming.
“Yes, honey,” she replied, completely unaware of the battle that raged inside her son.
“Have… Have I ever been in the hospital?”
A plate shattered on the floor. Mitch jumped in surprise. His mother stood motionless in front of the stove.
“Mom?” Mitch asked slowly.
She half-turned then moved to clean up the mess. “It’s nothing, sweetie.”
“Really?” He raised his eyebrow in disbelief.
“Mitch, really I’m fine,” she replied, doing her best to reassure him.
She quickly cleaned up the mess and returned to cooking, acting as if the strange moment had never happened.”
Notice the difference? No? Go back and read through how much was really revealed about Mitch’s dreams in the first draft and then check the second draft. In the first draft, lots of words, words, words surround the simple statement:
“I thought back to the night before and the dreams or should I say dream that haunted me relentlessly.”
In the second draft, that same thought is summed up in this few sentences:
“Mitch paused, unsure of how to respond. Bursts of images from the night before flashed through his mind: “He’s losing a lot of blood get him to the ER quick!” Hospital beds and hospital gowns. Cold eyes staring at him through goggles and white masks. “I don’t think he’s going to make it! His breathing has slowed way down.” His skin still felt icy cold and the feeling of déjà vu was overwhelming.”
This may seem like more words to read but did you notice that right after the internal monologue it flows right into a conversation that includes his mom and the strangeness surrounding her reaction (a fact that in the first draft didn’t happen until ten pages later). I eliminated over fifteen pages of words to sum up what could’ve been said in just a few sentences.
By deleting the “cutscene”, I can now spoon-feed you as a reader, tidbits and details about Mitch’s dream without resorting just to mountains of text. And now it flows faster, you as a reader don’t get bogged down in detail. Same amount of character development, much less detail. My goal as the author is to give you as much fun, as much complexity as possible without resorting to mountains of words. So why not let the world speak for itself? It has a mightier voice than I could ever muster.