The Eight Deadly Words

I should be writing – I’m working away on Novel 3 – but it’s the end of the week, and my brain is fried. So you get a blog post instead. And I’m speaking here as much with my reader hat on as my writer fedora.

I read quite a few books. I should read more, but the Internet and writing and the pull of daily life all have a vitiating effect. There are some books I adore outright, and quite a few I would have some criticisms for, but which still are redeemed at the end of the day by a character or plotline that wins my heart. For all that I fuss a lot about stuff on my blog, I’m actually a pretty forgiving reader. Because it’s my belief that most sins are forgivable.

There’s only one exception.

It’s when I read a novel of any genre and find myself saying

I Don’t Care What Happens To These People.

This coinage isn’t mine – it’s courtesy of Dorothy Heydt and known as the Eight Deadly Words trope. But it’s spot on. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the one sin that has you straight into Judecca, nothing more to be said. If I have Eight Deadly Words, chances are that your work is irredeemable in my eyes and if I finish it, it will be only through trickery and I’ll resent it.

(I’m still remembering the time in a certain novel a certain Mr Eight Deadly Words character printed out an airline ticket he’d purchased online. There followed a four-paragraph discourse on the history of airline tickets. Reader, I nearly Dorothy Parkered.)

Of course there is always the creeping fear that I will induce EDW in an unfortunate reader. In such a case, I would feel genuinely bad for them. I’ve tried every trick in the book to make sure that doesn’t happen, but there are no guarantees. It helps that I cared about the characters myself, far more than would be judged mentally healthy! Their story had to be told: it was obsession, not discipline, that powered me forward all those months and years.

About the only consoling thought is that what makes a reader care about a character can vary. Personally I think that when it comes to involving the reader in the fate of your characters, there can be no shortcuts, no prosy elisions, no “zooming out”. Again, as always, you need stay in the moment.

And as a reader I say to a writer – make me care. Make me care from the first page and do not disengage me. Give me a reason to walk that journey with you.




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