Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Promises, Promises by Claire Fayers

 Last week was hot. Not just normally hot but "throw all your clothes off, sit in a bath carved of pure ice and still feel yourself sweating" kind of hot.

I began to gaze longingly at the weather forecast, the little icons of storm clouds across the weekend. When the forecast was confirmed, I jumped for joy (and then had to sit down because I was sweating again.)

On Friday evening, I passed a pair of friendly ladies on a walk. "It will rain tonight," we all said, and smiled. I went to bed, looking forward to waking to the sound of thunder.

It didn't happen. 

I woke at 4am, feeling as if my bed was on oven and I was slowly roasting. By 6am, the sky was grey and obstinately dry. Furious was an understatement. 

It wasn't so much the ongoing heat, as the broken promise. The weather people had promised rain and they'd failed to deliver.

Promises are the currency of fiction. 

As writers, we're constantly making promises. Promises about the kind of book it is, a promise that it will be worth reading, that secrets will be revealed, the murderer will be found, the dragon will be slain, and, in the words of Oscar Wilde, the good will end happily and the bad unhappily for that is what fiction means. As readers, we are trained to spot these promises and, boy, do we get annoyed when the author fails to delivery.

A promise can be undermined, turned on its head, used to set an expectation in order to smash it with something far better, but once given, it cannot be ignored. Think of George R.R. Martin famously breaking the implied promise of fiction that the main character is not going to die before the book ends. Ironically, by breaking that promise, Martin established new ones - that nobody was safe and the body-count would be high.

Lloyd Alexander in The Iron Ring said 'Behind one truth there is always yet another'. That's true of promises in fiction too. If you break one, you better do it deliberately, and have another waiting to take its place.

I promised myself I'd keep this post short today because it's too hot to do much. So, before I retreat back to my bath of ice, I'm going to get out my new work in progress and ask myself: what promises am I making to the reader, and how do I intend keeping them?

Happy writing! (And please, somebody send rain!)

Claire Fayers writes fantasy adventures which promise magic, mystery and laughter. www.clairefayers.com


Joan Lennon said...

'Tomorrow ... I promise ... tomorrow,' as Scheherazade may have said.

Susan Price said...

A good blog! -- I will go to the book I'm sketching out and think about what I'm promising...

Mystica said...

I hope you will have rain tonight. It is always the nights that are hard when its hot.
I'm not being facetious but air conditioning not possible just for the bedroom?

Penny Dolan said...

Excellent point about the promise. Mine might have gone slightly sideways. Thanks.