Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Writing Like Standing on a High Wire, Playing the Violin

I was in Bath yesterday afternoon. The sun was out and everyone was enjoying the Bank Holiday atmosphere. On Stall Street, outside the Pump Room, a street performer was doing a high wire act so I stopped to watch. He was standing on one leg on his wire about nine feet from the ground and playing a violin. Amazing!

I carried on watching, he carried on playing the violin and standing on one leg. Hmm. I felt less amazed. Not to detract from his ability - I can't play the violin, or stand on one leg for so long, let alone be on a high wire - but I couldn't help feel he'd established he could stand on one leg while playing the violin on a high wire. There needed to be something more. He could have run up and down the wire, or even changed legs. As it was, I went on my way. (BTW returning later after lunch he was still up on the wire, more or less the same place, and still playing the violin. I'm not sure if he'd changed legs.)

Sometimes reading student work feels like this. You settle down to a promising start - some sparky dialogue, some vivid description. Great, I think and cheerfully read on. And on. Half way through page 2 I'm getting twitchy and thinking to myself, move on. The dialogue is losing its sparkle, the description is getting a bit dull. Where's the story?

When we're writing it's easy to get stuck in one place. We've all got writing preferences (I like a good row, myself) so we tend to write that. If you're lucky, your preference is for moving the story on. If you're unlucky, your preference is for a static form of writing such as description. If you're really unlucky, you like writing description and you're on a Creative Writing MA and getting your description praised to the heights.

But however clever your writing is, however beautiful, it's a bit like the guy on the high wire. You need to move on and do something else, preferably some action that moves the narrative along, or you'll lose the punters/readers.

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