Do you know that word – Conflate? Conflate means to combine or blend things, to fuse them into a single entity. It’s a helpful nonfiction technique where you merge several events or conversations or relationships and present it as one single event or conversation or relationship. It allows you efficiently to cover a span of time without boring your reader to death with the blow-by-blow details when all they really need are the pertinent points.
Spare Your Readers the Unnecessary Details
Let’s say, for example, that you had umpteen conversations with your spouse about adopting a child over the course of two years. In the first conversation, you might have talked about the possibility of adoption. And you talked about that for a number of months. Then you moved on to where you could adopt a child and had numerous discussions about foreign vs. domestic adoption, older child vs. infant adoption, same race vs. other race adoption. These conversations took another several months. Finally, after two years, you made the decision to pursue a foreign adoption of an older child.
Do you need to drag your readers through all those conversations and decision points? Maybe and maybe not. It depends upon the purpose of your book. Let’s say your book is about helping a foreign-born child assimilate into a family and culture that doesn’t look anything like them, and how to be your child’s advocate to overcome the unique obstacles they will face.
Does the reader really care about the two years you spent discussing adoption, or do they want to get to the purpose? My guess is they want the meat of your message, not your method of arrival.
So how do you handle those two years of discussion? Conflate it! Use Dialog to convey all the pertinent information, and boil it down to a couple of conversations. Here’s how you might approach it:
“I think it’s time we face the truth. We probably aren’t going to give birth our own child, but maybe we’re not supposed to.”
“It’s hard to give that up.”
“I know, honey, but we’re not getting any younger. What if we changed course while we still can? We’re not too old to adopt. I know the process takes awhile, who knows how long? If we want to have a child, I think we ought to consider this. To move in a new direction.”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. It’s practically impossible to find a baby here, so I don’t know if that would be any better.”
“What if we aren’t looking for a baby? There are a lot of children who need a loving home, maybe we should think about rescuing a child, not searching for an infant.”
“One of the women in my support group showed me a picture of the orphans in Haiti. They gathered them together after those earthquakes, but there aren’t enough adults to take care of them. One little girl – she looked about seven years old – she had the brightest eyes, but her smile, it wasn’t right. Like she knew she had to smile for the picture, but only her mouth moved. She looked really, really sad.”
You can CONFLATE two years of the backstory of how this couple decided on a foreign adoption into a single conversation, and move the action forward.
Tell Your Story Like One of the Great Storytellers
Here’s another example of conflating. Let’s say you are a teacher, and you have had numerous students with a mild form of autism. Your book is about the socialization of the classroom, and over time, you’ve learned how to help these special needs students open up and relate to their classmates. Why not illustrate that through the eyes of ONE child, not four dozen children? Why not show the experience through a single set of eyes, give that child a representative name, and use a single character to demonstrate your teaching methods?
Does this seem dishonest to you? Insincere maybe? Well, if it does, then consider this. All the great teachers were story-tellers. Jesus, Aesop, Buddha, Indian Tribal Chiefs. They taught their people valuable lessons by telling stories. Were the characters in the stories real or did they conflate a number of people or people types into one representative character?
You tell me. Who was the Good Samaritan? Who was the Prodigal Son? Does it matter? Did you learn anything about human nature through Aesop’s fables, even though the characters were animals? Are the lessons any less valuable because you can’t attach them to a specific person?
When you conflate, you tighten your writing and move your story forward. It takes practice, but your story is worth it!