Recently, I had the pleasure of attending one of Brian Henry’s creative writing seminars. Brian is a professional editor from the Toronto area who shares his expertise with those who love to write. He is an engaging speaker who has the gift of motivating in a craft where it may on occasion be sorely needed!
Krystyne Taylor Smith and Erika Lee from our group, Writers’ Alliance of Niagara joined me for an afternoon of information gathering and practice in Mississauga. The theme was ‘Secrets of Writing A Page Turner.” Certainly an irresistible topic for aspiring scribes. By addressing the reader’s expectation of uncertainty and unexpected twists, Brian led us through the requirements of Action, Texture and Suspense that would grab the reader with the “Now”, provide a background setting for the “Past” and climax with the “Future.” These only work to hold reader interest if balanced, in other words not too much of any one. He went on to describe characters and their conflict, what drives their actions and how they satisfy their desires.
Not only did we learn from Brian’s lively dialogue, but we were invited to ask questions and make connections. He asked us to write a short work in 30 minutes, where we could use what we learned to write a taut, suspense piece. Ideas from the group included; disposing of a body, a kid in church anxious to pee, a daring escape and a ransom demand. I was a bit daunted at first, I kept thinking of a ticking clock, but this wasn’t an exam and I was doing what I love. Once I chose an idea and mulled it over a bit, I was excited and got my pen moving.
Later we discussed the importance of the “Nine D’s” as Brian calls them.These are Delay, or holding back tension, Doling out information, keeping it interesting, Detail or filling in the picture, Develop, for a fuller understanding of everything, Decide and delineate everything you want to hold back, Digress and bring in other issues, conflicts, sources of tension etc., Deepen, to get the reader more emotionally involved, Deliver, if the character doesn’t grab the reader after 600 words of build-up, faith is lost, and last, Danger, consider what holds the reader so they don’t feel cheated. Don’t try to stretch out tension longer than necessary.
We wrapped up with a writing exercise to practice detaining the reader. Here we could choose a situation that basically wouldn’t give too much away in the first few paragraphs. A problem would be hinted at and armed with our new knowledge of the “Nine D”s” we would capture the reader’s interest and strive to maintain it.
At the end of the afternoon we shared our pieces with others, and exchanged remarks. I thanked Brian for the shot of writing adrenaline, which I hope will last until his next presentation!