Writing Secrets: Don’t spell things out – a lesson
If we read like writers, we’ll find lessons – on what to do and what not to do – in everything we read.
I recently found this lesson in the power of not spelling things out in a recent novel by one of my favourite novelists, Maggie O’Farrell.
Claudette, a famous actor and film maker, has a partner (in film making and love), who, it has been established, has had affairs. At the time of this extract, Claudette is fed up with the whole world of films, celebrity, and her life.
She is walking from her dressing room to the film set.
Without warning, someone appears, stepping into her path, and lassoes her about the neck with something. A spotted scarf. Claudette stops, examines this person at close quarters. It is a woman in her twenties. She has black lines drawn in a beautiful arch on her eyelids, a wispy fringe, lips stained blackberry-purple, a brooch of a bird in flight pinned to her collar. She is tugging the scarf to the side, tying it, frowning, retying it.
‘I like your bird,’ Claudette says.
The girl starts, as if a statue has spoken. Her hand flies to the brooch.
‘Oh!’ she says, flushing deep crimson. ‘Well, thank you.’
‘It is the green of oxidised copper.’
The girl glances up at her and her expression is one of fear. Why, Claudette wants to say, why are you afraid of me?
‘Stopped for Wardrobe,’ the man with the clipboard mutters into his mouthpiece. ‘Shouldn’t take too long.’
The girl plucks at the scarf with trembling fingers, eyes lowered. Oxidised copper exactly, Claudette things, or absinthe or arsenic…
…’That’s it,’ the girl whispers, and steps away, out of Claudette’s path. Claudette isn’t sure what else to do so she walks forward.
‘OK,’ the man with the clipboard says, ‘on the move again. Just about to pass Catering. Yeah, Ms Wells is all good for Wardrobe.’
‘We’ve stopped,’ the man says.
She turns her head one way: catering vans, the staff staring at her. She turns it the other way: a large lorry containing scaffolding, rigging.
‘I don’t know, she’s just looking around.’
She suddenly recognises the source of her trouble. She can pinpoint what she needs, why she has this bolus of unease in her abdomen. Of course.
She turns on her heel; she walks back the other way.
‘Er…we’re on the move but we’re going the wrong way … I don’t know …’
By this time, of course, we’ve clicked, along with Claudette. We also realise the source of our unease.
Her husband is having an affair with the young girl from Wardrobe and has given her the brooch.
It forms a turning point for Claudette. But how beautifully handled. We realise in the same way she does: her partner and the affair, are never mentioned.
Read Richard’s latest blog ‘Monday Motivation: Why is conflict an essential ingredient of drama?‘
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