Context as a Virtue

24 11 2010

Welcome back!  This week I conclude my first blog series, Writing as a Virtue, on the topic of Context.  When using the “reveal” I believe many authors overlook Context, which can really ruin a good book if it’s not used right.



What’s Writing as a Virtue?

If you haven’t read the first two blogposts in this series and want to know what the title means, here’s the first post.  I’ve also inluded the second post, for your benefit.

Part 1:  Dialogue as a Virtue –

Part 2:  Description as a Virtue –


A Matter of Context

Too often I’m reading a good story when the author overdoes himself.  This is usually done by putting to much emphasis on a mysterious factor in the book, then revealing said factor in a way that disappoints the reader’s expectations.

For example, I recently mentioned watching The Secret of Kells, a great animation that runs with similar themes to this year’s Book of Eli.  The movie centers around a special book, the pages of which are supposed to be “like Heaven itself.”  I was disappointed, then, when actually shown some of the nook’s pages.  While the art was great, I didn’t live up to looking like Heaven.

TIP:  When trying to create the aura of something unimaginable, leave it to the reader’s imagination.  Reference it, but don’t flesh it out in detail.  Don’t describe Heaven, it’s supposed to be indescribable.  So leave it that way.  In fact, if you’re planning on revealing something in your book, don’t create it to be something unimaginable.  Unless you’re writing via H. P. Lovecraft.

Thankfully not all of us are writing about Heaven (or the Faceless Ones).  We have the advantage of using a little more detail, then.  The trick is to raise the expectations of the audience with a little curiosity–while giving them little to no answers about what “it” is–and then blow them away at the end with something fulfilling and surpassing those expectations.

TIP:  I always tell you to STUDY, STUDY, STUDY.  This week, though, let’s step away from our fellow book writers and take a field trip to the land of scriptwriting.  Go rent some monster/horror movies and watch as they slowly reveal their “antgonist”–Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Alien, Predators are all some good examples of how the “monster” is slowly revealed throughout the story, or in the case of Paranormal Activity not truly revealed at all.  Then rent some movies where the “reveal” is horribly done and leaves you unsatisfied and wishing you hadn’t watched in the first place.  You need to learn the good, bad, and ugly so that you don’t end up writing the bad.  Or the ugly.  (Remember when watching that the same method of “revealing” a monster can be used for revealing a different type of factor in your story.  All you need to learn are the methods.)

Thanks for joining me on this series.  See you next week, and have a great Thanksgiving Holiday!




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