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

  1. Interesting. I rarely stop reading a book. Ever start and get a chapter into it and find yourself looking over the top of the page for something interesting to occupy that empty spot in your brain? Doesn’t happen too often. Careful reading of the book flap or the back cover for the key words helps.
    I’m new to fiction. I have two crime/suspense/detective novels in the publishing mill and a historical novel in final re-write. Made my bones in professional fact based writing that taught me pace and flow. Prose is difficult. Plot is not. Lots of plot fodder from real life experience and an active imagination powered by a salty sense of humor.
    So keeping a story on track and moving, working, so to speak, is where we shoot for. Keep ’em turning the pages and not shaking their heads and saying “Huh?”
    I will be joining your writers organization (Gulf Coast Writers) when we come south for the winter. I look forward to rubbing elbows with all the talent. Maybe some will wear off.


  2. Bob,

    You can see my bio and recent posts at: http://mikefullerauthor.com
    and http://www.facebook.com/mikefullerauthor

    I try to write like the books I like to read. Not exactly but after so many years of active reading I know I can’t write poetry or fluffy, frilly psycobabble stuff. I tend to be a little direct, maybe too much so but I keep it moving and in a logical direction.
    Like your example, don’t confuse the reader. They may not stick with you. But not everyone will like my books. That’s ok. But I don’t want a reader to give up on my books because of obvious mistakes. I want them to come back for more.

    I write and when I come back to it I read the last ten or so pages and re-write. I follow the logic, pace and flow. When the book is done I edit at least five times. It’s amazing to me that I find errors even after the fourth edit! Anyway, thanks for posting the piece. It made me think. It made me reflect. You were successful.

    I look forward to meeting you at one of the meetings.




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