Writing Secrets: We all need a prompt

 In Tips for Writers

Here’s the premise of your story: your character has been travelling around India in search of the meaning of life. One day, she awakes and realises the answer she seeks is not here. It was at home all along.

Your character goes home and moves back in with her childhood sweetheart. He won’t commit, though. There’s something holding him back. She can feel it, but he won’t talk about it.

Then one day he wakes up and says: “Okay, here’s why I can’t commit to you. I’m already married to a circus acrobat who is away on tour.”

I’ve just tripped over this issue again in our mentoring programme, while assessing someone’s potential story. The fact is that characters shouldn’t just take significant actions, or realise things, out of the blue. We feel cheated if they do.

Yes, I understand that, in India, you intend for her to be growing in insight as she travels from Delhi to Jaipur. Slowly but surely, her experiences make her grow up. But nonetheless, she can’t just wake up one day and know all the answers.  Something must spark her realisation.

Her childhood sweetheart also needs a reason to spill. He’s been holding a secret. He’s not going to get up one morning and think: Hmm, perhaps I’ll solve the mystery that’s been plaguing her these past five months.

He needs a prompt. Something must force his hand. Otherwise he must rather just shut up keep it to himself. And she might as well just continue wandering around India until she’s learnt enough sense to prompt her realisation.


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