The secrets behind the practice of good writing: People are important, but they’re just not enough

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, The secrets behind the practice of good writing, Tips for Writers

Characters may be the most important part of a narrative, but they’re not all you need to hold us.

Last week I made the point that startling events are not all we need if we’re to be drawn into a story. You need a character whom we care for and follow, while the great events affect her deeply.

The opposite is also true and we have recently found ourselves making this comment to a number of people embarking on novels.

“I want to write about the relationship between the rich relations and the poor relations,” we might hear. “There’s an intimate bond between them. They are bound together, yet the rich relations despise the poor and the poor, who are forced to kow-tow, resent the rich guys.

(I have made up this scenario. I wouldn’t break confidentiality by telling you what our mentees are really working on, but the issue does make a valid topic, which I believe could be useful everyone.)

That’s when we ask: “And then?” Sometimes, a new writer will shrug and say: “That’s it. That’s my story. I find it a fascinating psychological dynamic.”

Which it is, of course, but it’s not a story. Not yet. The characters in the setting make a great starting point. But what happens then? What we have is the status quo. Now something needs to disturb the balance of their gently feuding existence.

Perhaps the rich patriarch loses all his money, or his child is kidnapped, or …

Yes, I know . You don’t necessarily want to write a plot-driven story, full of high paced drama. You want to explore the psychological tensions within an extended family.

Nonetheless, something does need to happen. Perhaps one of the poor children wins a bursary to the same university as the rich kids…

Aha. There’s no high-tension thriller action there, but there’s plenty of scope for exploring how the rich family reacts, and how the dynamic of the family is disturbed.

Yes, characters are the most important part of the narrative, but something still needs to happen, otherwise there’s no story.


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.

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