Continuing the theme of ‘weaving’, there are other elements that can also be weaved throughout a story, not just the usual suspects like characters and plot and subplots etc.
Every writer should come to understand just how important dialogue is in a story. It’s not just about breathing life into your characters with their words, but dialogue can help move the story forward, control pace, and also act as a conduit for weaving information to the reader – the kind that is pertinent to the story.
To do this a character needs to share information or knowledge with other characters (and the reader), but it needs to be believable and relate directly to the narrative or be an integral part of the plot.
For instance, John and Sarah have bought an old house that they want to refurbish. The writer needs to show the reader that all is not what it seems, and through character dialogue, certain snippets of information might be imparted, but in such a way that the exposition isn’t obvious, and doesn’t sound like they’re reading from a scientific journal. For example:
‘It’s amazing to think this is over a hundred years old,’ John said. ‘It still feels lived in, even though it’s empty.’
Sarah turned from the ornate cornices in darkened corners. ‘Original period fixtures, too. In great condition. Whoever owned this house must have loved it so much.’
John ran his hand over the carved panelling. ‘The man who owned it took great care to keep it that way.’
‘Makes you wonder why it’s been on the market for so long,’ she said.
‘Because the owner committed suicide in this house, almost forty years ago…’
Without the need to explain the house is old, or that it has original features, who owned it etc, it’s just as simple to weave that information in the dialogue, thus negating the need to have large chunks of narrative explaining things.
Of course, the writer should take care to make sure the characters don’t sound like robots reeling off information to each other while in the thick of action. (Certain crime dramas do this). Writers should never assume their reader is stupid.
A brief sentence or two about an event, or some kind of knowledge or information is all that is needed when working with dialogue. Don’t bore the reader with an ‘info-dump’.
You might have several themes that you want to explore within your story – you don’t have to limit yourself to just one.
Themes are separate from plot. The plot is the backbone of the story, what and who is involved and an ending. The theme is the accompanying emotive subject matter, such as love or friendship, money and power, deceit, betrayal or survival etc.
You might have a story involving a protagonist trying to save his neighbourhood, but is thwarted at every turn by a notorious street gang who are terrorising the locals. Through cunning and bravery, the hero wins out in the end = this is the basic plot.
Into this you might introduce a love interest through a subplot involving the sister of one of the gang members = theme of love over adversity.
You might also weave the theme of power and control into the story, done through the antagonist – the gang leader.
Lastly, you might weave the theme of betrayal into the story when the reader learns that the gang member and our hero were once close friends, but one betrayed the other.
All the themes in a story are easily woven into the story through sub-plotting, dialogue and narrative – and as the simple example shows, they are directly relevant to the plot.
Weaving a Backstory
Every character has a backstory. In other words, it’s the events leading up to the moment the character’s life changes (and the moment the story opens).
But how do writers weave that into the story?
By far the easiest tool for a writer to reveal information that happened in the past that is relevant to the present is a flashback. This can be done through description of past events, or by a character directly remembering the events, or through dialogue of the past event.
Weaving the Setting
Every story needs a setting. Whether a modern day busy metropolis, a glamorous beach setting, or a desert, the setting shouldn’t be overlooked (but often is).
Think of the setting as the background to a painting. It’s there to provide support to the foreground, to accompany the colours and textures and provide depth – a picture without a background is rather bland.
The story is no different. There is always something in the background of the setting. That could be anything from the character of a place, the colours, the people, or the layout etc.
By weaving little morsels of the setting through the narrative, the reader is able to picture themselves in that setting; they feel as though they are there.
This is achieved through description, perhaps through a character’s eyes and thoughts, maybe through dialogue or even a few lines of direct exposition for the reader to get a feel of where the characters are.
Weaving your Research
Exposition in huge amounts is like reading an encyclopaedia or a history book.
The idea is that all the research you’ve done in order to add flesh to the story finds purpose and achieves the desired goal of educating and explaining things for the reader, without them realising it.
The research is basic background information to support the narrative. This can be achieved by weaving it into directly into the description – such as a specific place in history or time, like a war or a significant world event.
It can be done through the actions of characters, such as a character using machinery or equipment that the reader won’t be familiar with.
It can also be divulged effectively through dialogue – such as a character’s knowledge of a subject of object – while communicating with another character less knowledgeable.
All it needs is small, digestible snippets for the reader to consume and ponder, rather than huge amounts of boring information and ‘telling’ dumped onto them like a concrete slab.
If there is an element in writing that needs to be in a story, then it needs to be woven into the fabric of the story, as seamlessly as possible, like the fibres that make up our clothes.
That’s the art of ‘weaving’.
Next week: Writing Action Scenes