Why does some writing work, and some doesn’t? #1

row boatThis may be an overly ambitious attempt but it’s still an attempt. There’s a local newspaper that runs writing contests. They publish a photo and ask contributors to write a piece of narrative fiction based upon the image.

The most recent is a photo of a beached row-boat. One of the stories is about a young man and woman who borrow her uncle’s row-boat with the admonition not to lose the oars because the oar locks were rusty. (Actually, the writer calls them “brackets.”)

You know what happens next.

But they are saved by a couple of men in a power boat who tow them to shore.

They have a few beers and decide to swim out to where they lost the oars to try to find them (!) Of course, they can’t and they get tired and sore until one of the oars rides in on a wave and they capture it. They then follow a flock of sea gulls and get safely to shore.

Logic Slip One: Boat oars float!

Logic Slip Two: Why swim out to find the oars when they were beside the boat earlier?

Logic Slip Three: They are in deep water. But as the piece concludes there are details about “burning pain from bites, bruises from being thrown  into the trees”(!) Trees in the ocean.

It’s obvious where the story is going from the outset. It’s less obvious why the writer has to create this strained middle piece about being in danger and being guided to shore by a flock of birds that take on the role of guardian angels.

At times we think that what some people who write view as a creative process is a thing unto itself. That calling a piece “creative” covers a host of sins. (Witness the furor over the Metropolitan Opera’s production of the death of Leon Klinghoffer by terrorists.)

We’re not putting these works in the same category. But we are saying that fiction or non-fiction needs to have its own logic. Does Hamlet really think “The play’s the thing /Wherein [He’ll] catch the conscience of the king.” Doesn’t matter,  if the author has done a credible job up to that point of convincing the play goer or reader of Hamlet’s state of mind.

Science fiction has its own logic. So do fairy tales.So do cartoons. (But what does Clark Kent do with his clothes in a tiny phone booth? And where would he change nowadays? Telephone booths are no longer ubiquitous.)

Next post: If it doesn’t work, whom do you trust?

Comments welcomed!




About Bob McCarthy

Originally from the Northeast, I now call Southwest Florida home. I have been a professional copywriter and editor since 1979, both freelance and in house. I have had article published in regional, national and international magazines. Plus, a video for which I wrote the script won an industry award as Best Training Video.
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