ADD in Writing

Rabbit - runI’m not talking about Attention Deficit Disorder (wouldn’t that be a curse for writers, who have to spend many hours at their computers writing and editing?). No, I’m referring to the three narrative parts of any tale: Action, Dialogue and Description. During my mentorship, Kate highlighted the importance of being aware of these three forms of narration, and the way writer’s can use them to create a careful balance.

Often when editing, I’ll come across a long passage that isn’t quite working. When I can’t initially pinpoint why, I usually end up discovering it’s because my ADD balance is out:

  1. Action: when something is happening in the story. This could mean pirates are attacking a school bus, or simply a character is taking their dog for a walk. It can be high action or quiet action. Either way, the characters are DOING something
  2. Dialogue: when the characters are speaking (duh). Dialogue is a wonderful way of using each characters’ unique voice to show their personalities and reactions to others and events. Another reason dialogue is so valuable is because it introduces white space onto the page, breaking up the text and giving readers’ eyes a breather. I don’t tend to include internal dialogue in here because that gets absorbed into other paragraphs. I’d tend to include it in :-
  3. Description: any passage describing the scenery, characters’ appearance, internal thoughts or memories, characters’ reflections on things etc

When analysing a slow passage of my story, I might find I’ve used two pages of straight action and haven’t given the reader any description (ie. a chance to orient themselves). Or maybe the dialogue has gone on for too long and it’s become a bit confusing what is actually happening in the book (ie. the pace has slowed). Too much dense text without any dialogue can be a problem too – have you ever found, when reading, that a book can slow down with too many heavy paragraphs? I find myself flipping pages, scanning for any dialogue, and if it’s too far off I’ll put the book down for the night (there’s nothing worse than losing a reader). I also find it takes me longer to pick the book up again.

When you become conscious of these three narrative techniques, you can actively choose which to use at different points. You can pick the perfect one to heighten the drama or peak the emotional tension. You can create a balance that allows the reader to stay within the story, reeling them in at points and letting them breathe at others in order to absorb all the information.

I’ve certainly come across other ways of breaking down the different narrative structures – anyone got others to add?

7 Responses to “ADD in Writing”

  1. 1 Lynn Priestley June 22, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Kath,

    Great post and great advice.It’s amazing how complex writing is and how balanced it must be to work well. Equally amazing is how much people take for granted when reading a book, often having no clue how hard the writer worked at getting it all to pull together and balance perfectly. The more I learn about the process of writing, the more in awe I am of those who have published. So much to learn – so little time.

  2. 2 Angela Sunde June 22, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Yes, this reminds me of what Alice Kuipers spoke of at the CYA conference last year. She called it the ‘Modes of Telling’ and referred to there being five. Besides Action, Dialogue and Description, she also included: States of Mind and Exposition. The States of Mind lets the reader into the character’s head/mind/thoughts and like you said can be quite descriptive and the Exposition is like a summary of events to take the reader from A-B (eg..over the next couple of weeks his cough improved.) Of course exposition can be boring, so is best kept to a minimum.Thanks for sharing Kath.

  3. 3 Karen June 22, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Katherine, like Lynn I am continually amazed at how much thought, care and analysis goes into making a good book really, really good. I’m in the very early stages of my writing career and really appreciate posts like this one to tuck away in my box of tricks.

    I’m not sure if it would be in the same category as ADD, but I was recently reading about Scenes and Sequels and Motivation-Reaction Units (Dwight Swain). I’m still trying to get my head around it, but Scenes and Sequels are another way of taking a bird’s eye view of the flow of the story, while Motivation-Reaction Units take a more close-up at the structure of individual sections.

    Oh boy, I’ve got a lot to learn!!

  4. 4 slgreatsuccess June 23, 2009 at 3:33 am

    Actually, ADD in writers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be very effective for writing short quips, essays, jokes,
    thoughts from a quick moving mind that goes from subject to subject effortlessly! A War and Peace type novels may be a little out of the question, however!

  5. 5 Katherine Battersby June 23, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Lynn and Karen, I know what you mean about feeling overwhelmed sometimes. I often get that feeling that the more I learn, the more there is to learn! And Karen, I’m going to look into Dwight Swain’s stuff – sounds interesting.

    Angela, it was Alice Kuiper’s modes of telling that I was thinking of when I mentioned there be other ways of breaking it down, but I couldn’t find my notes on her talk, so thanks for that!

    slg, you’re probably right, I was just being cheeky ;)

  6. 6 Karen Tyrrell June 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I love reading your BLOGS. As I writer I’m always learning! And you give me plenty to think about!

  7. 7 Sheryl Gwyther July 1, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Excellent, Kath! I’ll be having a closer look at my mss in future with ADD in mind – thank you, you clever girl. :)

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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