And while I was away, I got to thinking. One of the reasons I enjoyed this holiday so much was because our destination was a place we had never been before (well, just for the record, I visited the island, once, when I was ten … which makes that nearly thirty years ago, and my memory just ain’t that good. In fact, all I can remember of Kangaroo Island, circa 1981, is that the bedroom walls of our motel suite inexplicably stopped short of the ceiling by a good foot or so, and that the one souvenier I brought home was a lovely dose of head lice. Bewdiful, as they say.)
It was kinda exciting to set out each day to destinations we’d never been to, not quite knowing what was in store for us. The kids were definitely hyped up (and oh lord, do I have the perforated eardrums from their excited shrieks to prove it!) And that got me thinking … as writers, that’s the kind of reaction we’re aiming to elicit from our readers. We need to hook them, excite and intrigue them, by taking them to places they’ve never been before. And I don’t just mean by using new or unusual settings; it has to be more than that. A character with a job that is not run of the mill, or a character with a creed to live by that is 180 degrees different to what you’d ever expect, will go a long way to keep a reader reading.
The holiday house we stayed in had quite an eclectic collection of books (it ran the gamut from a bunch of Danielle Steeles to Steig Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to Tim Winton’s Cloud Street and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses). When the book I’d packed just got too heavy to read (and I mean that literally – Stephen King’s THE DOME is a monster of a book, and while I’m loving it, it was just too much of a pain in the neck to try to wrangle whilst lazing on pristine white sand … ahem) I chose a book from the shelves by an author I’ve been meaning to read for a while - THE HARD WAY, by Lee Child. It’s the tenth book in his series, but nevertheless I was sucked right into Jack Reacher’s world, right from the get go - a loner, a reluctant but principled avenger of wrongs who skirts the edge – and crosses over – the lines of legality himself, a man who has no home, no strings attached, totally of his own choice. I was totally engrossed by this man’s way of living in the world. New, different, compelling – and it kept me reading.
So, while we have to write well, we also have to develop characters who are believable, yet hold our interest and our attention by doing, saying, experiencing or thinking things that are not the absolute norm. As writers, we are conjurers, thought-provokers, sometimes philosophers, but bottom line, we’re entertainers, here to give our readers an escape hatch from the hum drum of life (for which, BTW, the French have a fabulous term – metro-boulot-dodo. Literally, “subway, work, sleep”, to sum up a pointless existence.) And to do this, we have to switch off our self-editors, and be brave enough to let our imaginations run free ...
So, what books have you read of late that really pulled you into unknown and new situations? And how do you do this with your own writing?