The secrets behind the practice of good writing: Allow us to walk in their shoes
More than the more visual media of story-telling, reading immerses us in the experiences of others – which is why I particularly fear a society that doesn’t read. It’s my belief that reading creates empathy.
Because of this feature of reading, the good writer must be aware of and make best use of it, in order to enhance the dramatic sensation.
This was my advice to one of our mentees recently, when she wrote the following:
The last section of the race was as hard as any she’d done as she slithered through a boggy wetland which sucked her in to her knees every couple of steps.
This is fine, of course. It’s not “wrong”. But could it be better? Of course it could. It represents a style of “telling”, rather than “showing”, which distances us from the action. In that way, it minimises her difficulties, so that we don’t get the full extent of how hard it is.
It would be better to allow us to experience each step of this awful race with her. Allow her to feel (and hear) the mud sucking at her limbs. As she runs, one leg sticks fast while the other jars against solid ground, sending a splinter of pain through her temples. She falls full-length and bites her tongue. Her mouth fills with the taste of mud and blood. Perhaps she loses her shoe and has to burrow down through the slime to find it. She panics about ducking her head down into the muck … but can’t go on without her shoe.
So, don’t just tell us. Allow us to get down and dirty with your characters, so that we walk, for a while, in their shoes.
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.