Whenever readers open a new book, they really do want to like it. They persist in loving books even though the world has never contained so many exciting distractions. We need to make sure we hold their attention more powerfully than ever before, or ours will slip down their busy priority list and may never rise again.
All creative work is a combination of that free flying excitement that some people call inspiration and clever use of tricks and techniques that have evolved over centuries. Composers and painters know this, so do actors, sculptors and musicians of all kinds. It’s the only secret really: the best way for our work to deserve the attention of strangers is to combine the excitement of our unique ideas with learning the craft, year after year. We need both.
What about overnight successes? Creative people in every field who ‘break the mould’? Well, it does happen but usually the mould-breakers have done their homework, put in the hours, and know exactly what tired old moulds they’re breaking.
I have no interest in forcing your story into a shape that does not suit you. All I do here is to introduce you to some accepted tricks of the trade. What you do with them is up to you. So I ask you to read this section and then forget it. Rule 1 applies: if you’re in the grip of an idea that excites you, write it fast, dump everything else and keep writing until it’s done.
If you find your writing getting into difficulties, however, and you can’t see a way out, it might be time to take a rest, be kind to yourself … and take another look over this Box of Tricks section.
Between now and the summer, I’ll be posting about Point of View, Show and Tell, Through-line, dialogue (including subtext and lying), use of time and seasons, how to handle turning points, using memory and flashback, handling stakes, using hooks and links, finding your beginning and ending and choosing your title. I may think others up along the way.
London’s Poetry Library
These tricks of the craft are about what makes people put a book down and stop reading. They are about how to keep the pages turning, the kindle pages swiping, until your reader has reached the ending satisfied but wanting more. Most of these tricks have been used in every classic you’ve ever read and can help non-fiction as well as fiction. Some have been around since Homer’s grandmother, and her mother too.
That doesn’t mean they’re dull or outdated; it means they work.