Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Big C - Change!

The Big C is the single most important element in writing and I can't believe I haven't written a blog post about it before.  I believe that one of the reasons we read is to hear how other people handle change in their lives - change of circumstances, change of location, change of relationships, change of lifestyle, change of knowledge.  It doesn't matter what is happening in the story, so long as there is CHANGE.  

In one of the comments a few days ago, womagwriter wrote of an exercise that she'd been set in class.  The class wrote about their characters sitting round a table having a meal, then after 10 minutes of writing the teacher said that the phone had rung/a letter had arrived with bad news, and they had to continue writing the scene.  

In other words, there was a status quo, a change, followed by a period of adjustment, then a new status quo.  

Readers want to read about the period of change.  If a character works for 40 years at the same company then retires, we would choose to read about the character's adjustment from a world of work to a world of leisure.  We wouldn't want to read about the 40 years of working.

Alternatively, if the character was sacked after 30 years of working at the same company, we'd want to read about the dismissal and how the character reacted.  The preceding years of work would be of little interest.  

The reason is, we want to know how the character reacts to that moment of change.  In real life we have to deal with change, although we don't like it much - look at people like me, who are being dragged into the C21st by changes in the technology squeaking feebly that it's all happening too fast.  Think of the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times".  As human beings we don't like change - we want our relationships to stay the same, our children to go steadily through school without too many visits to see the head teacher, our jobs to remain secure.  

When you're writing, at the back of your mind you need to be thinking about change.  A short story is usually about one moment of change, a novel will be about many.  But it's change that fuels the story telling and as writers we must find the change for our characters.


Cara Cooper said...

Brilliant post Sarah. It's change that makes life interesting and well worth having in the front of your mind when writing. It's so easy to end up writing about the mundane because that's what most of life consists of but it's not what we want to read about. I think you may have helped me as I am critiquing someone's work at the moment and it's not grabbing me and I think it's probably all about not having enough that is changing in the characters' lives.

womagwriter said...

Agreed, change is what story needs to be about. A short story in which nothing changes may be beautiful writing but will elicit a 'so what' response. Nothing happens. I think the 'change' needs to be a moment of change for the main character. Could be external as in your retirement/redundancy examples, or internal - a sudden realisation or new understanding. And needs to be something the reader identifies with.

Sarah Duncan said...

Cara - I think a lot of the time you can have an okay story, but what's missing is that change, which is what Kath describes as the 'so what?' moment.

Kath - absolutely, internal, external, big or small - it doesn't matter what the change is, just so long as it is there.