March 22, 2014

The story should flow from one line to next

Dear M,

Why do people read some stories even though they aren't particularly curious to know what's going to happen next?

Perhaps the author is their favourite writer. Perhaps, though they know what's going to happen in the end, they want to know how it comes about. Perhaps the opening line caught them unawares and they just could not put the book down after that. Perhaps the writing followed all the best rules of writing and came out perfect. Perhaps they were bored and waiting at the doctor's, and any book would have done.

While there is a certain truth to all of these, the only real reason I can see is the ease of reading.

I have been captivated by the first line of a book, and tossed it aside after reading about five or ten pages. That's all the first line can take you to; no further. I have been bored by the first two pages of a book and just as I began considering throwing it away, it became interesting and absolutely un-putdownable.

The only reason, I repeat, is the flow of the text. The reader should tumble from one line to the next easily, as though the story were flowing, like a river. That does not mean the story should be light and funny and shallow and superficial. It can be unreadably profound and complicated writing, if you like. It could still flow.

How do we write like that so that the story tumbles from one sentence to the next? That's for each of us to find out.


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