Information Management & Storytelling

So I had another one of those big-picture insights.  I wish I had an interesting story about how it came about, but I don’t.  I was just sitting in front of the computer working on an outline for a client and…pop!

It happens sometimes, you know.  I have a brain like a computer.  You set up a properly-worded program, and the computer masticates its painstaking way through said program until it pops out results.

I was complaining to Jamie Ferguson that I hate trying to deal with information management in stories–when to tell a piece of information, how to deliver it, when to hold it back, etc., etc., because I seem to be so bad at it.

“Um, great story but it was confusing” = story of my career.

I just got another rejection that was like, “Hey, I can tell you have a great voice but goddamn if I can figure out what was going on here.”

Siiiigh.

The conversation drifted, as it does, but apparently I said something that triggered the internal computer to start grinding its way through the question.  What is information management, that I am so bad at it?  Is it more than the obvious, of just picking the right time to tell your reader what they need to know?

So it busily ground away, without me really paying much attention. Until…pop!

I probably couldn’t have come up with this until just now, or at least after the previous realization about defining story.

When I sit down to write, I basically just transcribe whatever the voice in my head is saying until it runs out of words, and then I go do something else until it catches up again.  Sometimes that’s housework; sometimes it’s just staring at the screen and drooling.  As you do.

That time, I ran out of story-words and thought,

Hey…isn’t information management just how you tell the story?

Hey…isn’t how you tell any given story all about the information management?

I drooled and stared at the screen.

After a while, I got up and did the dishes and made some tea.  For a while, the little black marks on the screen didn’t make any sense.

Then, fortunately, the part of my brain that was working on the actual story caught up with me and started saying the same words over and over again, which is usually my cue to sit down and start dumping them on the page.  Until…

Everyone manages information differently, you know.  How much, how little.  When you tell the reader.  Why you tell the reader.

How much you lie.  How much you make the reader wait for it.

One of the funny things about one of my clients is that he is always fooled by my outlines.  What I think of as the most obvious twists, if I don’t warn him and have to stop in the middle of an outline for some reason, he’s like, “DON’T TELL ME THAT THE HERO IS REALLY GOING TO DO X.”  I have to leave him notes:  “Note:  Really, the hero has faith in the heroine, he’s just faking it in front of the bad guy, he doesn’t really break up with her at this time.”

It feels like the Grandfather talking to the Grandson in The Princess Bride sometimes.

I love that.

That’s what storytelling is, spits out the program as it works through its iterations.  Plots never change, characters never change.  Good storytelling is just really good information management.

Just watch the first couple of minutes of that movie:  kid coughing, a video game with the sound going slightly flat.  A bored kid, a plastic-faced patient mother who gives him the forehead-fever kiss.  The grandfather is here to see you.  I don’t want him to come, he always pinches my cheek.  He’s already here, be nice, he’s old.  Ta-daaa! says the grandfather, already having read the look on the grandson’s face an instant before he speaks.  He has a book in his hand…

You already know it’s gonna be good.  Moment one, all the ducks are already in a row.

When you set all the craft aside, that’s where the art is.  

Nothing more than information management.

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Information Management & Storytelling, Part II: Beginnings

2 Comments

  1. I understand the struggle. And I have to keep reminding myself that, even though a plot twist seems obvious to me, it won’t to most readers.

  2. This is why I outline the way I do, so I can get the big picture and make sure I’m dripping properly before I start writing. My outlines are really more like very bad first draft word vomit. Then I give them some breathing room before I go back in and make sure everything makes sense. I’m nowhere near a pro at this—my critique partner, beta readers, and editor always pick up on things I overlooked—because it really is a work in progress type of skill.

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