This week, we begin the story of Daisy Jones and the Six, reading up to the chapter "It Girl." 

Synopsis: In the two opening chapters, we focus first on Daisy and then the band, eventually called The Six. Each chapter contains a variety of voices, people interviewed by the writer we met in the author's note: sometimes their accounts do not agree. These disagreements, at this stage, are small -- everyone in Daisy's chapters concurs that she arrived on the music scene very young, a minor, and was both extremely talented from the start and highly vulnerable, for instance. We also see in the two chapters the gulf between Daisy and the Six -- Daisy has famous LA-based artistic parents and grows up in the scene; the Six are struggling up from total obscurity, playing in small venues in Pittsburgh at first. At the end of the two chapters, Daisy is taking her first steps to use her massive musical genius and the Six have signed their first record deal.

Craft lesson: vividness is repetition

My argument last week was that the style of the author's note was deliberately "bad" in order to make the reader feel like this band might really exist -- the author sounded like a real person rather than a character in a novel. 

As soon as we begin the story proper, however, that effort stops, and we instantly find ourselves in a river of fantastically well-chosen prose. There is something propulsive, clear, vivid about the writing that is hard to pin down and very hard to emulate. 

One element I would like to highlight: the way that Reid uses repetition. One reason these chapters feel, at least to me, extremely quick to read is that they are very clear, with no murky what-does-this-mean moments, and we feel like we have all the information we need to understand what the main characters are doing. 

Take a look at the first three paragraphs, for instance, and see how many ways we are shown that Daisy's parents are indifferent to her:

You’ve got a rich white girl, growing up in L.A. She’s gorgeous—even as a child. She has these stunning big blue eyes—dark, cobalt blue. One of my favorite anecdotes about her is that in the eighties a colored-contact company actually created a shade called Daisy Blue. She’s got copper-red hair that is thick and wavy and…takes up so much space. And then her cheekbones almost seem swollen, that’s how defined they are. And she’s got an incredible voice that she doesn’t cultivate, never takes a lesson. She’s born with all the money in the world, access to whatever she wants—artists, drugs, clubs—anything and everything at her disposal.
But she has no one. No siblings, no extended family in Los Angeles. Two parents who are so into their own world that they are all but indifferent to her existence. Although, they never shy away from making her pose for their artist friends. That’s why there are so many paintings and photos of Daisy as a child—the artists that came into that home saw Daisy Jones, saw how gorgeous she was, and wanted to capture her. It’s telling that there is no Frank Jones piece of Daisy. Her father is too busy with his male nudes to pay much attention to his daughter. And in general, Daisy spends her childhood rather alone.
But she’s actually a very gregarious, outgoing kid—Daisy would often ask to get her hair cut just because she loved her hairdresser, she would ask neighbors if she could walk their dogs, there was even a family joke about the time Daisy tried to bake a birthday cake for the mailman. So this is a girl that desperately wants to connect. But there’s no one in her life who is truly interested in who she is, especially not her parents. And it really breaks her. But it is also how she grows up to become an icon.

Count the ways that this idea, that Daisy's parents ignore her, are presented:

  • she has no one
  • Two parents who are so into their own world
  • [They make] her pose for their artist friends
  • the artists that came into that home saw Daisy Jones (unlike the parents
  • there is no Frank Jones piece of Daisy. Her father is too busy 
  • Daisy spends her childhood rather alone
  • a girl that desperately wants to connect
  • here’s no one in her life who is truly interested in who she is

This is not the only time that Daisy's parents' indifference to her is developed -- the motif continues through the chapter. And yet the instances are not repeating (her father accuses her of breaking the coffee machine in a later moment in the chapter). And you could make the argument that there are more examples of that indifference in the opening three paragraphs than I have pointed out.

Often, as writers, we want to deliver to the reader a particular feeling or a particular belief about a character, a situation, a time. Say we want the reader to understand that the Dunne brothers, Billy and Graham, are two horny guys. How many times would you need to add on the page information about this to get it across to the reader?

My belief is that many writers deliver this information too sparsely. The writer says it once, maybe twice, and then moves on, confident that the reader has got it and has stored it somewhere important. But often the reader has not got it at all. The reader, instead, is unsure what the line meant, or is simply emotionally elsewhere, unable to follow the character, even though they want to. 

So my craft lesson for today is simple: say it again! Each time you want the reader to feel something or understand something, bring it up two or three more times. By "repetition" -- I don't mean literal repetition. If possible, be like Reid and be creative with each instance, coming up with a new way to say and show the same thing ("Daisy, as an underage teenager, was preyed on by creepy older men"), but the key is to repeat yourself.

(As you may have heard me comment before: an excess of repetition is easy for an editor, agent, or beta reader to point out and delete. An insufficiency is not as easy to fix because that reader won't actually understand what you are trying to get across.) 

Think of one "thing" in your story that you want to get across to the reader. Can you insert at least two more mentions of it into the story? 

Discuss below!

  • This “Say It Again” advice is very much appreciated. I now can see how easy it would be to fall into the trap of “I don’t want to hit them over the head with it so I’ll just leave it at that”.

    Seems like we worry too much about being subtle, but perhaps we should focus on how quickly a reader moves through things, especially the opening chapters.

    Get those ideas and themes into their heads. Lay the groundwork.

    Thanks Daniel.

  • I like the “say it again,” but from different perspectives — different people remember the same event differently, or interpret it differently.

  • Nic Nelson says:

    Interesting… and the manner of repetition or “circling back” (or as one neurologist writer friend says, “myelinating”!) can differ depending on the needs of the story & the author’s voice. Reid’s repetition is like popcorn, each one a unique glimpse of the repeated idea, each one equally brief (in this bit anyway). But sometimes it works better to build up from minor to significant, or to build outward from personal and secret to something close friends know to something acquaintances and even strangers might notice. Reid doesn’t (seem to) follow any such progression of repetition, and it works here, but progressive repetition might fit other prose.
    (In my WIP I am using random repeating glimpses in one POV and rigid progressions for another POV, as befits those characters!)

  • joycecorey says:

    I’m usually too careful not to repeat myself for fear of redundancy and as an editor I am quick to remove words/sentences because of that. But I see this point about repetition. It’s another way to be clear about something. Maybe even a chance to say it again with a new perspective so it looks ‘new’ or at least repackaged.

  • K.M. Hotzel says:

    “Say it again” feels counterintuitive from some of the writing advice I have been given. Although I see the value in it – especially after reading the opening chapters of Daisy Jones – I’m hesitant to repeat myself. I don’t want to bore the reader. Then again, stating a theme or idea in several ways my emphasize a point, trait, or characteristic.

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