Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ask O Wednesday: How Do I Defeat Reaction Before Action?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

I’ve been teaching a six-week history course for junior highers at our homeschool co-op. One requirement is to teach and discuss two literature selections. The first one rocked—The Scarlet Pimpernel. “Zounds!” It’s splendid!

Lately, I’ve been working on the second selection--a Lewis and Clark story from a dog’s POV displayed on my Kindle.

I’m sorry to say that this book drives me crazy! It’s confusing. I don’t know what’s going on. I have to re-read and re-read. And then I’m still not sure what’s happening. The root of the confusion is the old cause-before-effect problem. Reaction before action. Nasty beast. It manifested its ugly mug in several ways.

A scene moves along nicely. Seaman (Meriwether Lewis’s dog) sniffs a flag pole and bumps noses with another dog, and then, bam! Out of nowhere a strange new person strikes up a conversation. Another joins in. It’s Thomas Jefferson.

I’m jolted out of the story into a cascade of questions.

Where did person number one come from and when did President Jefferson arrive? What are they doing and how are they related to the dog? How do they fit into this point in the plot?

How to Stop
It can be tempting to shock readers with a surprise character, shown through dialog, but in my experience, it rarely works, rather, causes crazed frustration (at least in my case).

I try to step back and introduce the new folk through my point-of-view character’s lens. I don’t always spell out all the details. For instance, the author of the Lewis and Clark dog book could’ve shown a tall man with red hair entering the scene. He could’ve portrayed an air of authority, and then disclosed the presidential identity through dialog.

That would’ve helped.

I feel better just sharing…

Tune in next week for part two of this topic.

What are some ways you fight the wicked vice of reaction before action? 

I'd love to hear!

Happy writing!



  1. I think I need to take your class at the co-op, I learned just from this post. :)

    love the pic of you, so cute!


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