Saturday, 12 April 2014

K is for Knowing

I remember when I was at school we had to write a story that conveyed an emotion. I wrote about a woman who was scared as she climbed over a wall and was about to break in to a house. I thought I'd done a good job with it but I got a lower grade for the piece that I'd hoped for, so I went to talk to the teacher about it afterwards.

She asked me very simply, 'what is she doing there'?

In concentrating on describing the emotion in the piece I'd completely left out any reason for the character to be doing what she was doing, and that made the piece unsatisfactory.

I knew when I was writing that the woman was a private investigator and she was breaking in to the house of a vicious crook to get evidence against him. It was one of her first cases and she was scared because she hadn't done anything like that before, and knew that if she got caught then she would probably be killed.

The problem was, I hadn't included any of that back story in what I'd written, so the reader didn't know anything about the character's motivation or why she was pushing herself to do something that was making her scared. Of course, if I'd put everything in then it would have been a whole lot of telling and still not a very good piece, so what I should have done was just drop a few hints about some things, maybe have the character remember something about the owner of the house while she was sneaking in, and let the reader fill in just a few of the gaps, rather than having to make up their own reason why the woman was breaking in.

So K is for knowing - how much we know as writers and how much of that information we pass on to readers, and at what points and in what way, can make a huge difference to how enjoyable a story is.

Also, on the off-chance that my English teacher Miss D'Auban, is reading this, thank you for the good advice :)

• Challenge - who has given you good advice? Share it with someone else!

1 comment:

  1. That backstory and all of that motivation is essential. Here's to a teacher who knew how to reveal that to you without criticism.