Most people wouldn't think to discuss writing by comparing it to a Monty Python sketch. But today's guest blogger, Brian W. Matthews, not only does just that, he does it in a way that mirrors what he achieves in his latest book, The Conveyance: by using the idea of taking something ordinary and turning it upside down in order to surprise the reader.
Have you ever seen the Monty Python skit, the Ministry of Silly Walks? It’s one of their most famous, near the top of a long list of hilarious British comedy routines. If you haven’t, take a moment to do the Google and watch it.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.
Done? Great. We can move on.
I learned one thing from this brilliant skit—writing well is much like walking badly.
Sounds confusing, I know, but bear with me.
When you walk, hundreds of muscles and a handful of sensory systems work cooperatively and in perfect harmony to move one foot in front of the other, shift your body weight forward, and take that crucial step. This happens over and over, ten thousand times a day. If one little thing goes wrong, you face plant into the ground.
The process works exactly as intended, time and again.
Now imagine if you wrote like that—the way you were taught in college composition classes? Sentences would be long and complex, the flow of words steady and uninterrupted. Perfect sentences forming completed thoughts, the process repeated the same way, page after page. Structurally sound writing that might earn you an A on a composition paper.
But here’s the problem as I see it—reading that kind of prose is like watching a man in a three-piece suit walking down the street. Tick-tock, tick-tock. The same thing, over and over. It quickly becomes predictable, and boring. When that happens, the reader abandons the story and goes on to something else.
Now imagine John Cleese. He’s wearing his proper British three-piece suit, has his leather satchel in hand, yet he’s doing these crazy gyrations as he walks the streets of London. He’s doing the same thing as our first person; he’s walking. That’s it. But what Cleese does, and what makes you want to watch, is you don’t know to expect next.
He doesn’t stumble. He doesn’t fall. His stride is, yes, silly and unconventional, but it’s also perfectly rehearsed and as choreographed as a figure skating routine. You can’t tear your eyes away from the screen.
You watch a man walking simply because you don’t know what to expect.
If you’re a fiction author, your writing needs to be smooth, choreographed, and unpredictable. Break up the length of your sentences. Throw in a few well-chosen fragments. Understand the proper uses a higher level punctuation—semicolons and colons, ellipses and em-dashes—and use them. Make sure your dialogue isn’t stilted. Vary it up.
Make sure your reader can’t predict what’s coming next.
To achieve this level of writing is difficult. It takes practice, and a lot of it. But if you achieve this level of skill, your writing will seem compelling no matter what your subject matter is.
So go ahead and be silly.
Just make sure, like Mr. Cleese, that it is precise and intentional.
Beneath the calm waters and pastoral fields of Emersville, a deadly secret lurks. But when psychologist Dr. Brad Jordan stumbles upon the odd happenings in the town, he sets off a series of tragedies that threatens to expose a danger long kept hidden from the world. Relentlessly following a trail of madness, suicide, and murder, he soon finds himself confronted with a massive conspiracy, and a sinister device known as the Conveyance.
This is the summary of Brian W. Matthews' latest novel, a deceptively quiet story about an ordinary man who gets caught up in mysteries that threaten the fate of the entire human race. Brian, a former psychologist, draws on his experience as a therapist to weave a tale of abuse, betrayal, hope, and terror. The Conveyance is his third book (the others are Forever Man and Revelation).
By day, Brian W. Matthews works as a financial planner, but after the sun goes down--in the deep dark of night--he scribes stories meant to entertain and, perhaps, terrify. When he isn't developing investment portfolios or crafting tales of monsters and madmen, he tries valiantly to knock a little white ball over the rolling green hills of a golf course without hitting traps or trees. He can also be found lurking in the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, hunting and fishing and generally causing mayhem.
Brian lives in southeast Michigan with his wife, daughter, and two step-daughters. You can follow him on Twitter , Facebook, and his website, BrianMatthews.org.