Our writing club opens its doors the last week of September and until then I have another opportunity to blog… Sol Stein is a terrific writer to go to for tips on techniques. Born 1926, he edited and published books for 36 years from some of the most successful writers of the twentieth century, including James Baldwin, Dylan Thomas, Elia Kazan, W.H. Auden, and Jacques Barzun. If you want a better look, check out Stein on Writing, St Martin’s Press (1995) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stein-Writing-Successful-Techniques-Strategies/dp/0312254210
So, what did he have to say?
Lots. Nearly all of it valuable.
He begins by quoting E. L. Doctorow, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” p.4
Yeah, we get it, -Show not Tell-. Good advice.
Stein studied buying behaviour in a Manhattan bookstore during lunch hour. They mostly read the front flap of the book’s jacket and then went to page one. No-one went beyond page three before either taking the book to the cashier or putting the book down and picking up another. p.9
So, no point encouraging someone to read on because your novel picks up a bit after the first few pages. Start writing where it picks up, as near to the climax of that particular episode as possible and hook the reader. No matter how beautiful your writing is, we’re in a hurry and as a reader need to:
- know why we’re reading,
- enjoy where it’s taking us
- seek the answers to the questions that got us hooked.
Stein advises we should grab the reader’s curiosity, PREFERABLY ABOUT A CHARACTER OR A RELATIONSHIP and create a setting to lend resonance to the story.
Characters Build Strong Interest.
Think of even the most meaningless soap opera. You may not admit to your friends that you even watch it, but when it’s on it’ll pull you in. There’s possibly no point talking about the plot, it may be banal, but for some reason, you care about how that particular character will react, how he or she will deal with whatever the script writer has concocted.
What Excites our Interest?
- the unusual
- knowledge that something is not right, that fate is being tempted
- when characters find themselves in a situation you identify with…
It’s not an exhaustive list. Think about it, what works for you? Perhaps a character wants something important, wants it badly and wants it now. Or maybe a character that you are rooting for finds herself in danger and you must find out what happens next.
We need to write for ourselves AND the reader. Imagine you are at a party and someone ‘corners’ you and insists on a boorish recital of a tale that you must listen to, politely, until an escape route opens up to you.
Do not be that boor.
How better to be captivated by something that entertains and raises questions that catch your interest long after the story ends.
Be that captivator.
Years ago I heard two girls chatting to each other at the bus stop. My bus came and I seriously considered missing it, just so I could hear more…
‘So, was he circumcised?’