So, what is the job of a novel writer? No, really, when you get down to it, what’s it all about?
Is it perhaps to structure a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or a chapter? Well, perhaps, but who hasn’t done that? I’m sure that most people have done that to some extent, even if it’s only a report for work, or a note for a family member. Of course, it is important to be able to spell and punctuate in order to be able to get your point across in an understandable way, but while a page on tax law might fit all of those criteria, it isn’t going to make the most enthralling read.
Is it about being descriptive? Again, I think we’ve all had to do that too, for any number of different reasons. But I doubt that even the most detailed description of the intricacies of a car’s fuel injection system is of any interest to most readers, and even a car-nut would fall asleep if I started to describe the physics behind it all.
Maybe it’s about being able to create a character? Perhaps, but making the character of the person who wrote that page on tax law ‘interesting’ might ‘tax’ even such luminaries as Dickens or J.K. Rowling. He or She would have to have more to them than just that.
Ah, then it must be the plot, right? Well, possibly, but if John Grisham had written his tense life or death legal dramas in the ‘legalese’ version of the english language, I would probably have switched off after the first ‘heretofore’, or ‘wherein’. How about you?
I think the truth is that the job of a novel writer is the synergy of all of the above skills, and a good many more. However you weave those elements together, the job of the novelist is to keep the reader interested and wanting to find out more.
Let’s take our tax legal eagle, and put him into a perilous situation, and bring a human weakness to him by making him as drunk as a skunk behind the wheel of that high-powered car. After he crashes, let’s get some dialogue going by bringing a police officer into the scene.
“This is your car, is it sir?” enquired the sergeant, patiently.
“Conshternoon, afterble, I’m not as thunk –hic!– ash you drink I am” slurred Jeremy, through the whisky-induced haze.
“It’s sergeant, actually, sir,” said the sergeant, pointing to his stripes amid the flashing blue lights. “And I must ask you again, is this your car?
“D’you –hic!- d’you know, I rather think it wuh-was,” mumbled Jeremy, as he blearily surveyed the battered Porsche. “Yesh, offischer, it was.”
“And I’m guessing that you’ve had a drink this afternoon, have you sir?” asked the sergeant, in a rather sterner voice.
“Yess, I’m afraid I did,” replied Jeremy, his expression suddenly becoming grave. “She died, you see. The old lady. Shooi –hic!- shooi –sob!- suicide. ‘Cos of the mishtake I made, you know, about her tax. Yes, her tax.”
“Well, it’s a good job it was a tree you hit, sir, and not another car. Otherwise you might have had another death on your conscience,” admonished the sergeant. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to accompany me to the station, sir,” he finished.
“Yesh, yes, of course, officer,” said Jeremy, hanging his head and holding out his hands for the cuffs. “I’m ‘fraid I’ve made rather a mess of things, haven’ I?”
“It would seem so, sir, but let’s discuss it back at the station,” replied the sergeant, leading Jeremy by the elbow to the police car, as he read him his rights.
An unpleasant scene, perhaps, but in those few sentences we bring Jeremy from his slightly comic drunken greeting to the officer, to his rather sorry-for-himself remorseful drunken acceptance of his situation. While he cuts something of a pathetic figure, we learn that he has a conscience, which is what led to his current situation. The sergeant is, of course, professional throughout.
As a reader I want to know more. Does this character have any redeeming features? What was the awful mistake that he made? What, if anything, will he do to make amends?
But there is no page to turn, because Jeremy was just one possibility for a character creation exercise for the Woldingham Writing Group.