HOW TO ASK YOURSELF THE RIGHT QUESTIONS FOR YOUR SCENE
The beeping wouldn’t stop. Every few seconds the IV reminded us that we were in a hospital. I sat on the chair with my head hanging between my legs, staring at the tiled floor, silently demanding the nurses to come. Next to me, in the bed, lay my wife. She wasn’t saying much, and neither was I. We’d been through this before. But what about this time was going to so be different from the last?
I have a confession to make. I have not written a blog in two weeks. I’ve just had a few of them in the queue, and I’ve responded to messages. But, my wife and I welcomed the arrival of our second daughter on June 26th. Her name is Sarai Rachel.
However, since this a writing blog and not a blog about my life, I wanted to introduce her with a little bit of dramatic build-up. I wanted to show non-fiction writers that it’s important to write non-fiction with the nuances of fiction. Now this excludes historical non-fiction and self-help. But there are non-fiction stories, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, which should be written like fiction, though they’re autobiographical.
Regardless of what we are writing, developing the empathy is the avenue to the reader’s intrigue. The snippet above introduces the main character, me, who is sitting in the waiting room with anticipation of what’s about to happen.
Here are some questions that come to mind.
1. Does the reader need to know why we’re in the hospital?
2. Is the reader being pulled along unfairly?
3. Does the reader feel connected with the main character?
The answer to question #1 is obviously, yes.
Question #2 is important. Sometimes writers build too much tension and stretch the rubber band until it pops. What do I mean? If the tension that you’re building doesn’t amount to something more amazing than the tension itself, then you’ve broken the reader’s trust.
In the case of the story above, you don’t know what’s wrong with the main’s wife. It could be cancer or anything. It just seems bad. It’s not trickery, though. Why? Because the emotions are real. Sometimes writers build tension to manipulate the reader’s emotions rather than to portray the feelings of the characters involved. This is a narrative negative. Don’t do it. It’s similar to saying this: “Hey reader. I want you to feel this way.”
No one would ever write that in a book, yet if the emotions created are not the emotions that the character is feeling, then it’s counterfeit. (This does not apply to novels where the narrator is watching the events take place from an emotionally removed perspective).
The answer to question #3 is also, yes. You don’t know who the main character is, but knowing WHERE he is puts you in his situation. Think about it. How many of us have been in the hospital next to a loved one? That event alone builds the connection. Even if you haven’t been in the hospital next to someone you love, you could imagine how tough it would be.
Thanks for stopping by!