Lessons Learned #17

We want action!

Fooled you! I’m not writing about my filming antics, I am talking about writing. There was this article I read in Flipboard a few weeks back that stated that a famous writer was given a manuscript of a driver. After seventy-five pages the writer tossed it back to the driver with the statement “readers want emotion, not information.”

This little sentence made a huge impact on me. Like the driver’s book, the first seventy pages of my first book are full of information only. I am describing my protagonist, her friends, her family, her situation. Nothing exciting is happening. I knew this was a problem as I could see why people would put my book down again, but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly or how to fix it. I needed to convey this information to understand my protagonist. Then I read this sentence and realised; there is a lot of information and no emotion! People are not moved to be scared, sad or extremely happy whilst reading these first chapters.

I recently read a book by a novice writer, Ruth Ware, called ‘In a dark dark wood.’ I purely bought the book as research as it was advertised as ‘genuinely chilling and totally compulsive’ and ‘a tense, terrifying novel.’ I wanted to know how to write suspense so I thought this was a good way to find out. The story isn’t actually that great (sorry, Ruth, just my personal opinion) as it is very predictable, but it is set up in a way that wants you to keep reading. How? Let me tell you.

Ruth Ware starts the story with the present where things are all very bad, but the reason for this is unknown. Then she flips back to the past, to where it all started. Slowly but surely she weaves the present and past together (in separate chapters, to not get you too confused too much and keep the grammar easy, i.e. all is written in the past simple) until a point 2/3 into the book where everything that has happened in the past is known and the present continues. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it is a very clever set up. Until you know what has happened in the past you want to continue to read to find out why the protagonist acts the way she does. From then on the story must grip the reader to read on and this is where I found it lacking. But then again, I’m a big action-adventure fan, so if this doesn’t happen I’m always a bit disappointed.

It was a big decision, but after that little statement from this unknown writer (I don’t think the name was ever stated in the article) I decided I had to re-write my novel. Definitely the first and perhaps also the second. When I wrote my first novel I realised I was very ‘short’ on dialogue and descriptions (the book is only 55K words long, where standard novels are usually over 70K words long), but I didn’t want to bore my readers. Now I know that I was a bit harsh and need to expand the story. I have also completely thrown the first and second part together, integrating the information bits with the action that happens in the second part. The hard part is, of course, to leave out any text that ‘doesn’t fit’ anymore, to throw away my babies, but I’m hoping that the newly added and integrated text will make it much more ‘readable, interesting and fun!’

Have a Happy (Re-)Writing Weekend!

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned #17”

  1. Story telling is certainly a real art. I’ve read short novels that have dragged and huge tome that have flown by! The style certainly makes a difference to a reading experience. It’s so bad when you find yourself thinking “this should be good” when reading about a clever complex story that is just dragging (or indeed “I shouldn’t be enjoying this” when reading a well written but cheesy plot!)
    Good luck getting it just right!

    Zoe

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