The secrets behind the practice of good writing: Don’t swindle us out of our drama
Don’t cheat readers of their drama. Last week I spoke about writing as a two-way exchange of trust. Part of that trust is playing fair. Readers don’t like to feel ripped off.
I gave this advice to one of our mentoring participants recently. He’s given his permission to use a piece of his writing to make a point, but I’ve suitably changed it so it won’t be recognisable.
His protagonist is a young man of reduced circumstances who was able to study because of the kindness of a benefactor. It has been made clear that he needs to prove himself worthy. He’s terrified that, should he fail, or mess up, his benefactor, Mr Melville, will withdraw his support. At this point of the story, He has got into deep trouble at university. He has been set up to take the fall for something he didn’t do.
Here is the end of a scene in which he’s been called in to see his house warden, Labuschagne:
Labuschagne stood up suddenly. “Ah here they are.” He looked past my right shoulder.
I turned my head. A middle aged couple were walking up the path. I froze.
“Michael?” There was an iciness in his voice. An iciness that told me Mr Melville was fucking angry.
Great cliff-hanger, right? I was dying to get his next submission. The stakes were high. I cared about Michael and couldn’t bear to think of his having to take the fall. This was a dark night of the soul. I desperately wanted to see it play out. Except that it didn’t.
While watching a sports match, our Michael recalls that it was “hectic” when Mr and Mrs Melville showed up. Mr Melville was “freaked out”, but his warden assured him that, not only did he believe in Michael, but that he would get to the bottom of things.
After watching a couple more balls played, he recalls the fact that his warden did in fact manage to sort things out for him.
I felt cheated, and told him so. I wanted my full allotment of drama, served up in scenes. I didn’t want to be told of it all in retrospect. I wanted to see how Mr Melville reacted, in the moment, and have my heart in my mouth with Michael, as we waited to discover his fate.
My 2016 blogs will continue to try to uncover the secrets behind the practice of good writing.
Please join the discussion and if you have discovered something that has made a great difference to some aspect of your writing, please send it to me. I’ll share it on the blog and we can discuss it.
Each blog will deal with a secret that may have occurred to me through reading or mentoring other people’s work. Or they may be lessons hard learnt through five of my own books. Many will be applicable to fiction and non-fiction, while some might refer to one or the other. When you tackle a piece of writing, you always have a vision of the perfect work it will be. As you write, you become increasingly aware of how it falls short of the perfection you wish for it. Writing (and rewriting) is the process of trying to bring it as close as you possibly can to that vision. Here, I will try to share those little gems which should bring all our writing one step closer to the perfect piece of writing – one blog at a time. Some might tackle the process of writing or how to keep writing, while some will look at language, characterisation or story. Some might be more general, while others will be very specific. But each will be a piece of advice that I believe in and that I hope will help make us all into better writers.