I do not often blog about writing because there are thousands of others out there merrily teaching the world how (or how not) to write. The other reason I do not blog about writing very often is because the late, great James Herbert once famously said “I’ve never read anything on how to write books; if you have got to do that then you can’t write“ and he was RIGHT. The other great writing success of our time, Stephen King, put the learning process in even simpler terms: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut”.
So why am I breaking my own rule and blogging this week about writing? Well, I happened across a great You Tube video, the link for which I set out below, and it really does highlight a very important aspect of writing which every writer has to be aware of: Feeding your characters.
Feeding your characters is not an easy process, because they need information. If there is no information then there is no plot, and if there is no plot then there is no point. They get that information by interacting with each other. Once you have given life to the little darlings and let them find their voice, and their quest, they then have to discover sufficient snippets of information in their theatrical world to solve the conundrum that has been dropped on them from the great author in the sky.
And this is where it often goes pear-shaped. Good writers and bad writers are differentiated by how they handle this skill. If I want my detective to discover that the killer likes hot-dogs, and the reason he is collecting the blood of his victims is to adorn his hot-dogs with his own blend of tomato sauce, (ridiculous example I know, but indulge me), how do I engineer the detective discovering this? I could do it in a gradual way – ie at the scene of every crime there seems to be breadcrumbs which are collected but never really given credence – until some bright spark thinks it is odd that amongst the crime scene debris there is always breadcrumbs, so they have them analysed and discover they are all the same type of bread, same brand, same everything. They are not a fluke appearance at the scene – so they run DNA tests and Hey Presto! Saliva, etc etc. Or I could do it in a non-subtle way –ie the killer leaves every victim with a hot-dog shoved in their lifeless mouth and the words “I Love Hot-Dogs” carved into their chest. Either way, as a writer, when looking at plot, I have to think about how characters glean information from themselves, the scene, each other, and even the overall pattern of information release.
So, back to my initial comments. Why am I breaking my own rule and blogging about this? Well, it is because, in my humble opinion, it is information release/handling/discovery which either makes the novel great, or makes it a let-down.
Why else would fans of Law & Order compile a list such as those in the link below? It is because over-use of one technique, (in this instance websites/Internet), is soon exposed, and when something becomes routine it becomes ineffective and unbelievable.
So writers must work very hard to keep it fresh, believable and surprising. And so it should be. That is our job, and those who are good at it stand out a mile, in the same way as those who skimp on it deserve short thrift from their readers. Being a writer is a privilege bestowed upon us by our readers. Abuse that at your peril.