Monday Writing Motivation: Provoke your reader’s curiosity
Covid has provided us with a real-life example of something critical to every form of creative writing. It has shown us how, when things stop happening, time becomes muddled and we lose direction. So, in story, when scenes lack a dramatic imperative, the reader loses concentration, grows bored, and decides to do something more rewarding.
You know what I mean about covid. Whether or not you’re in some form of lockdown now, you’ll remember those weeks during which it was difficult to recall what day it was, or what you did yesterday, or when last you made a significant decision…
That’s the nub of the matter. Significant decisions, however minor, are what punctuate our days in normal times. Deciding, instead, whether to spend the next hour napping or reading or playing patience does not entail a significant decision, and therefore will pass down the stream of days without causing a ripple.
On to the building blocks of narrative, then: scenes. A scene is a moment in time – sometimes stretching over hours, but for the most part played out in “real” time – in which the direction of the story changes.
In writing for the screen, these moments of transformation are called “turns”. Your hero, infatuated with a woman, realises that her glamour is skin-deep, and that she is using all her feminine wiles (now that’s an old-fashioned phrase!) to manipulate him. This change in perspective propels the story in a fresh direction…
But the change can be much less obvious. It might be that, having a drink with her paramour, your protagonist has a moment’s misgiving when he makes a remark about another woman at the bar – a remark that reveals a certain coarseness, perhaps, or lack of empathy, or even a tang of misogyny. It doesn’t cause her to rethink the relationship from top to bottom, it might not even prompt her to snap at him, but it does awake in her a worm of doubt…
Every scene should have its “turn” – when your perspective character learns something or experiences something that nudges them off their previous path.
Why is this important to the reader? Because, as Robert McKee in Story points out, “turns” have the effect of surprising the reader, of increasing their curiosity, of giving them insight into the character, and of adding a twist to the story.
We’re as surprised as the protagonist is by her man’s remark, we’re curious about whether this new facet of his character will threaten their relationship, we learn something about our heroine’s own character, and the moment introduces a wobble into the story.
So if you’ve just finished a scene, check back to see what its dramatic imperative is. Ask yourself in what way your protagonist has changed.
Paying constant attention to this aspect of your writing will add tension and tautness to your story. And it’ll guarantee that your readers will mark and remember your scenes in ways we haven’t marked and remembered these endless covid days.