Hanging the cliff
Ever run into a spider web? I have and it was a big one. I was playing with the kids on the farm and hit it when I ran into the shed. It was a bird catcher spider web – the maker of these webs are certainly not small (as you can probably tell by the name). Now if you’re squeamish about spiders, don’t worry, I won’t talk about what happened next until the end of this blog. I’ll give you fair warning so you can stop reading.
The subject of ‘what traps me’ came up this morning while I was having brunch with friends. One of them said she’d been watching a television series on DVD and was so into it that she was up until 2am. At the end there was another cliff-hanger and now she has to wait until the next series starts to see what happens!!! She wasn’t happy, but still desperate to get her hands on the next series. Normally, I would think if this happened in any other way in our lives we’d just get crappy about it and drop the whole thing. For example – if I was sitting in a restaurant and the waiter brought my Lobster Mornay to the table, waved it in front of my nose and then walked away saying, ‘Next time you can have a taste,’ I would be very disappointed, hungry, want it, need it, etc. But of course there would be no next time, unless that was the last place on earth I could get food.
I was intrigued to know why my friend would go through that again and watch the next series, just to face another cliff-hanger, so I asked her why she liked it so much. Writers have to ask these things. We need to know how to keep someone interested – after all, we love when it people stop us and say, “I couldn’t put your book down” or “it was a certainly a page turner”.
I needed to know what made this series so engrossing.
She said it was about a girl who’d been murdered and they were trying to find out how she died and it was really complex and it showed the parents and the lawyer and hinted at some kind of conspiracy and she had a dog and maybe the dog knew something because it was acting strange and there was a coin on the dresser and then someone saw a photo of a strange man and so and so on – and all the while I just sat there waiting for the critical ingredient – but it didn’t come. There was no magic wand the producer or writer had used to keep her so enthralled.
But when I went back over what she had said I realised I’d missed the critical first line – “It was about a girl who’d been murdered and they were trying to find out…”
In the beginning we have a murder. No one knows who did it, or how it happened. As humans we have a need to know things. It’s part of our inquisitive nature. If you ask someone a question or give them a mystery, they tend to get caught up in it and really don’t let it go until they have the answer. I was reading somewhere recently where the most watched television advertisements are those where you are asked a question and the answer is given at the end. Therefore, instead of walking away to get your cup of tea, or whatever, you watch the whole thing to find out what the answer is (tricky little advertising execs!).
I’ve done this with many of my novels. WolfPear opens with a woman burying a body, though it’s not made clear for some time why, or who, she has killed. The Eleventh Question naturally opens with a question and in Let Sleeping Gods Lie the protagonist is searching for ‘something’.
I think my friend will feel satisfied when she knows the answers to the questions, how was the girl murdered and why? Only then will she find, what is now known in many life circles as, “closure”.
WARNING – I’m now getting back to the spider web.
At the beginning of this blog I asked you a question and told you something had happened to me, now I’ll offer you “closure”.
The web was as tough and strong as a tennis net. I ran through the shed like a maniac, slapping at my head and face. The kids thought I’d finally lost it, until they saw the spider. They took off in all directions, failing to let me know that the spider was still in the web and not on my head. I ran into the house, stripped off in the bathroom and had a hot shower. I never went into that shed again.
Best of luck with your writing!