Wednesday 16 September 2015

You can't do that!

Writers are, of course, wonderful beings who can create a mood, describe a scene, script a passage of dialogue, so that the reader really feels they are present in the action. And readers bring their imagination to the party, which adds yet another layer to the texture. Even so there are some things even the best of writers can't, won't or shouldn't do. Some don't work on the page, some are judged to be technical errors, or disliked by some readers, others are just plain irritating.

As regular readers will know, I like to go to the theatre and get a lot of inspiration there - and not just from the leading man! One of the things that a writer would struggle to reproduce on the page is the show stopping visual spectacle. Description will only go so far. I'm thinking in particular of the visual joke. I remember, many moons ago, seeing the Sam Shepard play True West at the National Theatre, with Anthony Sher and the late Bob Hoskins. It is an unsettling, intermittently violent piece, but the second act opens with the most wonderful visual joke. I won't tell you any more, because of spoilers, should you ever get the chance to see the play, but it still makes me smile even now.  

Then there is the stuff you shouldn't do. I used to get into an awful lot of trouble on my journey through the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme for starting a book with a female character who was not the heroine. Romance readers apparently tend to assume that the first girl they meet is The One and I have a habit of attempting to disappoint in this area. I think I'm cured now. Maybe.

Of course readers also have likes and dislikes. Some readers will not tolerate interference with geography. Woe betide the author who puts a road or a shopping mall that doesn't exist into a real location. I'm afraid I'm guilty and unrepentant on this one. I have plans for an extra art gallery on Trafalgar Square and then, of course, there is my addiction to islands. I'm currently contemplating a

There's going to be a new island out there.

tax haven type, like the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, off the Welsh coast. This may be a problem in that I'm not sure if there is room between Wales and Ireland for what I want. I haven't looked into the practicalities yet, but it probably won't stop me. Did someone at the back mutter megalomaniac?

Some readers won't read a book with a prologue. I'm guilty on that one too. I tend to use them for a small but important incident - usually the one that kicks the whole thing off - where there is a significant time lapse before the main body of the book. In the case of the one I am currently not writing, this is 15 years. My justification for prologery is showing, not telling. Smug, or what?

Then there is the irritating stuff. On my personal list are puns and jokes that depend on different spelling of the same word - like dear and deer for instance. That always pulls me out of the story as I am thinking - hang on a minute, I'm seeing this, but the characters would not be hearing it.

And what about coincidences? Occasionally, yes, but not too often. One of my favourite authors is actually rather prone to this. I'm not naming names to protect the guilty, but I know I've ground my teeth while reading when, yet again, the protagonist just happens to meet a friend in the pub, or the street, who is the one the person who can sort out the plot twist the author has got himself tangled in. In that case the strength of the story-telling has always triumphed, but maybe one day it won't.

The final 'You can't do that.' point?


  1. Interesting as always Evonne. Your comment about geography made me smile because someone once told me they'd looked up the (fictional) village in Sugar and Spice but couldn't find it on the map - I took that as a compliment that it'd sounded real! Angela Britnell

    1. Hi Angela
      Yes - I think it is probably a compliment. As we write fiction I think we get a licence to make things up :

  2. Hi Evonne. I think I'm guilty of most of the things 'writers shouldn't do'! My suspense novella, 'Tangled Web' was set on an island 'somewhere' on the Welsh Coast. I call it Artistic Licence. Islands are atmospheric and inspiring so carry on and invent one, Fay

    1. I've just seen your comment, Fay. We will have to compare islands sometime.