This is a longer post.
But first, the weather report:
It has finally cooled down in this beautiful city.
The sky’s grey with clouds crawling along under the blue.
People are disoriented.
Suddenly, sweaters are needed.
Everyone’s mildly in mourning of the hot days now gone.
Give it two more days and complaints about the lack of sun will flare up all over…
Until then, everyone’s enjoying the 22°C.
The basic question is easy:
We’ll go with Prose for now.
When reading manuscripts what (sadly) often happens is that by page ten we’re not entirely sure we know, let alone understand, what we are reading. Questions range from “Who’s who, exactly?” and “Where are they?” to “Why are they doing whatever it is that they are doing?” and “What are they doing actually? It’s not very clear at present.” The final question boils down to: “Why should we (the readers) care about what Person A, B, or C are doing?”
Now, this can be a pleasurable suspense, but few are able to pull that off well. Why? It requires an astute balance of information and ‘silence’ to keep the reader interested and clueless at the same time. Which usually means that they’ll keep on reading to find out what happens next.
There is a way out though: To avoid that first muddle, always remember that the reader has no idea what you know about the characters, their histories, predilections, loves, hates, foibles and bad habits.
When first reading your book, the reader, for example, does not know who will die in chapter 7 and why in chapter 8 everyone will hate the protagonist for at least five pages. You, the writer, do know and with your story you are leading the reader to all those twists and turns that make your story so enjoyable. Don’t spoil the fun by giving away too much too soon, or by being so obscure you lose the reader entirely.
This may seem trivial advice, obvious even, a ‘no-brainer’, but you’ll be surprised how many people forget that very important fact.
This is where it’s very helpful to consider the following:
How much does the reader need to know to follow the story?
How much information needs to be held back to keep the tension/suspense?
What is believable?
A reader’s suspension of disbelief, after all, only goes so far. This is where an understanding of the story you’re writing is vital, the first question being a matter of genre, as in, what kind of fiction are you actually writing?
Let’s look at Place & Time for a moment. Being clear on them helps an awful lot in what is and what is not possible with regard to the above-mentioned suspension of disbelief.
If your story is set in a place like Middle-earth, Westeros or Narnia, for example, dragons are very possible. You might walk into them anywhere, given a large enough cave and a treasure-chest or two. Just be sure to know your dragon-lore.
In a ‘realist’ 21st century Manhattan, with characters piling in and out of Starbucks on 96th and Lex, you’ll have a problem. Unless it’s a drug-induced hallucination, then fire-breathing creatures are, again, not so wholly implausible. As long as they don’t actually scorch and eat people. Unless a flamethrower is involved; one may argue about the scorching in that regard.
In a surreal London of indefinite (future?) time where city citizens have permits to keep pet dragons by an official Ministry of Legalised Reptiles, then, again, dragons are plausible. They’re quite likely also a constant fire-hazard, which is why in this particular London firefighters are highly-paid officials managed by an insidious corporate network… There are many possible scenarios in such a setting.
Simply said, your plot (what happens) and story (how and why it all happens) BOTH have to make sense with regard to the place and time they are set in.
Again, this may seem trivial, but there are manuscripts out there that break all laws of physics, causality, and logic. They are not enjoyable reads. Even time-machines have to make sense. Corporate coffee definitely has to. And dragons, too, clever
bastards beasts that they are.
That’s it for now.
Don’t give up.
Keep on writing.
Featured Image: pixabay