How to Keep Your Message Front and Center
Writers are special because we love to get messages out into the mainstream. In fact, our message makes us writers, and the message must be front and center. To do this, us writers are the screenwriters if we’re comparing our works to movies (it may happen someday, who knows?) and the characters we create are the stars.
To this extent, the writer’s job is to stay out of the way of the characters, plot, message, theme, and anything else inserted into the story’s or informative piece of information’s creation. As many writers tend to be introverts, this plays quite well into our hands.
In my contemporary fantasy trilogy, Lord of Columbia, my main cast is rather large in scope and they’re the people I want my readers to remember. Todd Matthews is telling the story, and that’s all I want them to know of me. Sure, readers will pick up on my libertarian and anti-statist views, but the work is meant to entertain while informing. I’m telling the story and getting the message out, but the characters are the stars. I just relayed their story.
You’re an Offensive Lineman
In football, the offensive lineman are the blockers. They’re going to fend off anyone attacking the skill players and are either protecting the quarterback or opening holes for the running back.
The best linemen in the NFL get noticed if they do something wrong.
If you’re a writer and people don’t notice your writing, it’s the sign of a good writer.
Because, especially for us indie-authors, it’s going to be tough to explain the typos, grammatical errors, plot holes, big blocks of texts, and anything else going into a mistake-riddled piece of work.
The writing shouldn’t be noticed.
Do you like big words?
Get them out of here.
Do you like long sentences?
Do you like to describe every last detail of a scene?
Great, you know how to emulate real life. Now stop it. Leave it to the amateurs, as award-winning author Jerry Jenkins says.
Do you like pages of backstory which will do nothing more than bore a reader out of their mind unless they live in their parents’ basement as a career choice?
Cut to the chase and get to the plot.
My first few drafts in Lord of Columbia were abysmal, or at least they would’ve been in the hands of experts.
My first mistake began with about four pages of backstory which I came to realize seeped out in the plot, anyway.
I used a third-person omniscient point of view, which provides nothing but spoilers for the reader and the reader is being told rather than shown from one distinct point of view, or the central character.
I explained every detail of every scene, so my first draft was around 185,000 words, which has since been cut to 73,000, over half the text.
Readers today want to get straight into the action.
They’re going to turn on the TV or surf the web if you don’t have the inciting incident within the first few pages. Heck, some literary agents I’ve read about want the book to start in the middle of the inciting incident.
Take this article I’m writing to heart, because it’ll save you time, headaches, and frustration. My first few edits in Lord of Columbia took almost a month per edit, but now that I’m down to my last edits, I can read through the manuscript within days, sometimes half a week.
Your Message Matters
How is this intertwined with your unique message?
All the errors I’ve described above get in the way of your message. However, when you cut to the chase, the inciting incident, and the initial surface problem, your message is beginning to come to the forefront not for you, but for your character.
Take my main character, for example. He learns of the inciting incident within the first two pages and it contains just enough backstory for the reader to pick up on several cues of his past, fit into half a page of conversation.
The first sentence reveals my character’s name, gender, personality, and the uncertainty about to unfold. Two sentences later reveal the genre and the short backstory follows. By page two, the inciting incident occurs. The initial surface problem comes to the forefront within the first chapter, and the foreshadowing occurs simultaneously.
As the story progresses, my character’s story-worthy problem unfolds, as does his character arc. More to come on Lord of Columbia as the months progress.
As noted above, the characters and the overall scope of the story are the stars. Todd Matthews is just someone who did research and wrote a book that never would’ve happened if the likes of Ron Paul, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Gerald Gardner, Ludwig von Mises, the Cleveland Browns (seriously), and the Rothschild Banking Dynasty didn’t come before me.
I take their message and make it my own, but I caution, and I’ll continue to caution, all writers to never take centerstage. The characters are your stars, they’re your skill position players, and you’re the offensive linemen.