Monday Motivation: It might be crappy, but does your chapter work?
Here’s a very short reflection on an absolutely essential attitude to writing. It can be encapsulated in a single, short dictum: The only question to worry about in your writing is, does it work?
That question, naturally contains a number of others packed within it like those Russian babushka dolls.
Firstly, it’ll only work if the motivations of your characters are established. “Oh, he’s just a psychopath – of course he’d kill her,” is not a satisfactory accounting. Even if your character’s a psychopath, something must have triggered this murder. And if your character – as the great majority of characters are, thank god – is not a psychopath, then we want to understand why he made this choice, or why she married this particular wastrel.
Secondly, it’ll only work if we believe in the reality of the world you’ve created. This is true whatever the genre you’re working within. Science fiction demands world-building – but any novel requires that you spend time dressing your sets – providing us with the sensory clues and cues that enable us to imagine ourselves present in the scene where the heroine is confessing her infidelity to her husband.
One of the reasons The Americans – a fine four-season series about Soviet spies deeply embedded in an American suburb – is so compelling is that the world the producers have created is so believable.
And it’ll work if we’re aware that there are chains of causality binding one scene to the next.
So you’ve written a chapter, and you’re reviewing it now before moving on to the next. You lament the number of typos, the over-use of eye-rolling as a signifier of disdain. You think some of the dialogue is really cheesy.
But dramatically? Eliza’s motivation in dumping her lover is clear to us, if not to her. That office party you’ve written into existence feels about as real as anything you’ve created. And each of the scenes takes the story forward.
So it works – and you can proceed with the next chapter knowing that you’ve got a firm foundation to build on.