Thursday, April 30, 2009

Making it a Mystery

I love when I read writing advice and can apply it right away. Usually I read an interesting tidbit in a book or hear an idea or experience something in workshop, then I tuck it away and months later, I’m like, “oh, that’s what they meant.”

But yesterday I read a piece of advice and immediately used it in my book. I wasn’t even trying, and I think that’s when learning is at its best. Since I do anything agent Janet Reid tells me to suggests, I went on over to writer Robert Gregory Browne’s website Casting the Bones. I liked the first post and poked around.

Then I stumbled onto this nugget: “I don’t care what kind of story you’re writing. EVERY story is a mystery story. And by mystery, I merely mean that you don’t reveal everything up front. You tease your reader, planting questions in his/her mind, questions that he wants answers to.“ (More here.)

This made a lot of sense, and, like I usually do with nuggets of wisdom, I tucked it away in my brain and let it marinate. Then I typed away, got stuck, twittered, read and then was ready to type some more.

This was the situation: Yesterday morning I had Sadie’s antagonist antagonizing her, but I couldn’t figure out his justification. The scene really helped solidify the story’s conflict, but it bothered me that it didn’t make any sense for Jack to do what he did. So then I decided to write a scene where Sadie conspires with a former co-worker to figure out what Jack was up to.

Well, smart girls as they are, they did figure it out. And it totally works. I was quite happy with myself and my characters, since they did all the thinking and all I really did was type some words. But then Browne’s advice flew right to the forefront of my mind. Sure, it was great that I, the author, knew my antagonist’s motivation, and what he wanted in that scene. But what if I didn’t tell my readers just yet? What would that be like? Well, it would be a little mystery, wouldn’t it?

Do you see how that all came together? I will replay it for you: read writing advice, write, forget about writing advice, read a book, write some more, (okay, twitter if you must,) then brilliantly apply writing advice just when it was the very last thing on your mind.

It doesn’t matter if these events happen within minutes of one another or months. The point is, you must actively seek out writing advice, you must always be reading, and you kind of always have to be writing, too. I think when you pursue these three activities, the learning will do its own thing behind the scenes. Then you get that aha moment and see what your brain has been up to when you weren’t even paying attention.

1 comment:

  1. I was just writing a blog post about the same site. Wasn't that a great link?