|By Antonio Litterio
Last week, I told you that underestimating the intelligence of your audience is a bad idea. Whether they dropped out at 14 or if they’re looking at their doctorate in the rear-view mirror, everyone knows something about the human condition, even if their field of experience is only a narrow strip. If we’re talking of qualifications for writing or reading fiction, however fantastical the subject you need to germinate it from a grain of reality. Don’t give your landlord-evading private eye a Bugatti Veyron to drive, unless he’s stolen it. Even then, at 3 miles per gallon, he’d better take a Saturday job if the bailiffs aren’t going to be winching it onto a truck. And that’s before he’s paid for the insurance.
Aways do your research, but leave them wanting more. Drip feed information. Coax them to keep turning the pages by revealing only a little bit of what they want to know. Be a literary fan-dancer, but like the best burlesques, know how much to give, and when. Lead your reader up a blind alley or two, distract them with the occasional red herring but give them the pleasure of exposing the odd secret along the way as well. Don’t frustrate them too often, or for too long. When there are so many real-life distractions both on-and-off line, there’s a balancing act to be managed between suspense and revelation. Keep it fresh to keep them reading.
One cliche that no tip-sheet can avoid is “write what you know”. It works. You’re an expert on at least one thing – your own experiences. That’s a rich seam to mine, so get digging. That doesn’t mean you should regurgitate your life story and nothing else ad nauseum, though. Did Shakespeare murder his wife over a pocket-handkerchief? Did Thomas Hardy hang children from clothes hooks? No, but they used their own experiences of human nature, jealousy and misery to colour their inventions. people are people the world over, and they’ve been like that down all the centuries. Powerful emotions drove Cain to kill Abel and King David to send Uriah the Hittite away to war, and they’ve throbbed through the veins of thousands since then. Find your story, and make it speak to everyone.
I write both contemporary and historical fiction – when I’m not cooking, gardening or beekeeping. You can catch up with me on Twitter and Facebook, see a full list of my published books at http://www.christinahollis.com and get full details of my latest release, Jewel Under Siege, here.