The secrets behind the practice of good writing: You can’t hurry drama
Like love, drama can’t be hurried.
As she walked into the apartment, a bomb exploded in the lounge, killing its three occupants and causing carnage.
Okay, as I showed a couple of weeks ago, the construction: “As she walked into the apartment” needlessly dilutes the power of rest of the sentence. It may be the subordinate clause, but it’s what we notice first.
We are focused on her entering the apartment and the bomb exploding feels as though it’s tacked on the end. Would it make a difference if we turned it around? “A bomb exploded as she walked into the apartment.” Yes it would. We focus first on the bomb and only vaguely register the walking in part.
However, there’s a much more important point at play here. You can’t hurry drama.
I find that new writers do this a lot. Perhaps they believe that getting it out quickly packs more punch. The opposite is true.
Allow us to experience it, step by step, with the character who enters the apartment.
She closed the door behind her. The apartment was silent. Where was everyone? A creak sounded from the lounge. No music, though. That was strange.
She dropped her bag on the side table and started for the door. A flash exploded across her eyes, blinding her. Something punched her full in the gut, forcing the air from her lungs and smashing her against the far wall. A boom reverberated against her eardrums, before all sound died.
She lay crumpled against the wall. Brick and plaster dust swirled in the air. A pile of kindling lay where the side table used to stand. The door to the lounge was gone.
We haven’t even got to the dead people yet, but we will, as soon as she can rise. This is, of course, a matter of showing rather than telling. Don’t “tell” us that a bomb exploded, killing three people (unless you’re a journalist writing a hard news story).
When we’re reading a book, we don’t want the news upfront, before we finish our cereal. We want to experience it ourselves, at the same rate as the character does. We want to be shown. Like her, we don’t yet know if a bomb exploded, or if there was a gas leak.
We’ll discover in due course, as she does. In the meantime, it raises questions in our minds, which adds to suspense. And documenting each step into the apartment, slowing it down, adds to the drama.
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.