“You know, like fights and car chases and evil people pursuing you.”
I think this is an example of good advice that has been twisted out of shape. It’s not that you have to write about things that are interesting. It’s that you have to make the things you write about interesting to your readers.
There’s a difference. And I think that sometimes the reason this advice gets twisted is because it’s much easier to write an interesting fight scene than some more mundane event. So, what was once good solid advice has devolved into some sort of misconception that only “action” is interesting to readers.
I started thinking about this last night when I spent ten minutes watching a butter churning contest. Yep, you heard that right. It was Australian Master Chef and they had a skills challenge where the competitors had to turn cream into butter and the first person to bring 150 grams of butter to the judges won.
It sounds ridiculous, right? Butter churning? Really? But if you think about it, reality TV is fantastic at taking things that should be relatively boring (sewing? cooking?) and making them interesting.
The little butter churning segment had appeal because there were stakes (the winner won a special advantage), there was something to overcome (churning the butter), and there was a challenge (ten other competitors who could win instead). Victory was not certain for any of the competitors. The producers presented enough of the challenge to make it exciting, but not all of it which would have likely been very, very boring.
Later, I started to think about how I might write about that butter churning scene. I imagined a girl, her arms sore from whisking the cream, determined to win, thinking about the job she quit and the child she left at home to be there, glancing nervously at the competitors to either side, praying silently to win. I pictured her rushing up to the judges, her hands shaking as she stood in line, despairing because she was fourth and surely one of the three in front of her would win. I could see her rising hope as one by one they were eliminated – “too much buttermilk”, “not enough butter”. And then her final triumph as they slowly lowered her butter onto the scale and it weighed in at 147 grams, close enough to win.
It’s kind of a fun exercise, really.
Look, to each his own. If you want to write fight scenes for half your book, do so. I just hate the thought of authors getting boxed into a corner by flawed advice. If someone tells you that you shouldn’t have “x scene” in your book, before you delete it, try to find a way to make it interesting instead. Or if they tell you that you have to start your book with a fight or a fire or a crash or a whatever and that doesn’t feel right to you, ignore them. Just make sure that whatever you do start with grips the reader and keeps them reading.
I think the Internet is great for giving beginning writers advice, but I also think it’s horrible because it sometimes advocates a one-size-fits-all approach that just isn’t valid. Write what you want to write. If it doesn’t appeal to others, don’t trash the idea, work on the writing until it does.
(This advice from an unpublished nobody of course…)