Monday Motivation: Writing’s “secrets” are in plain view
Creative writing is not, as some suppose, an arcane art over which only the select few are ever granted mastery, or to which there is access via a magic key, a secret skill available only to the illuminati.
It depends, in fact, on no more than a refined version of many of life’s “ordinary” skills.
Think of observation, for instance. Most of us pride ourselves on our powers of observation, and yet it’s a well-documented truth that the vast majority of us are, in fact, very poor observers. Ten witnesses of a crime taking place in broad daylight – a mugging, an assault, a bank robbery – will give ten sometimes highly divergent accounts of what they’ve seen.
“He was blond,” reports one witness, “and he wore a check suit and a blue bandana to conceal his face. And I took particular note of his sneakers: white, with brown laces.”
A second will tell you that the criminal she saw possessed “a mass of curly brown hair. He was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt with a picture of a tiger on it. Plus, a pair of Nike running shoes.”
And so on.
But, while we’re naturally poor observers, we can learn to improve those skills, by discipline and habit – and we can then apply that skill to the creation of our characters and our fictional worlds.
Nothing magical here.
Or take the Hero’s Journey – that primordial story structure that appears to underpin all dramatic narrative. Why should it work so well that writers across the world, and across the ages, have structured their stories in patterns that are recognisable mirrors of Joseph Campbell’s archetype?
Because that’s how life is. Every important transition we ever made from innocence to experience follows in the footsteps on the Hero’s Journey. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Hero’s Journey is simply the reduction to paper of the more complex algorithms of our everyday adventures: the passage from childhood to adolescence; any serious romance; any frivolous pairing; bringing up children; starting a new job.
And we know, either from bitter experience, or from laughing up our sleeves at those who, inexplicably, don’t know, that the best way to turn a great anecdote into a damp squib is to blurt out the punchline before you get to the end.
There are consequences to this simple acknowledgement: the longer you can spin out your tale without revealing the climax, the more avidly your listeners will attend. So, that cardinal principle of dramatic writing – to structure stories so that they build to a satisfactory climax – is one that we’ve always recognised.
And finally, we all know that curiosity is piqued by the promise of revelations to come… We bite our nails waiting for our exam results. We go mad with anticipation waiting for winning numbers on the lottery. And this is why suspenseful writing is writing in which the delivery of information is delayed for as long as dramatically possible.
Simple truths drawn from everyday life that can transform your writing.