I watched the last 20 minutes of the AFL grand final today. I’m not a huge sports person, but I was doing that mad thing people do when they watch sport, where they leap around and laugh in disbelief and yell at the tv – when there’s no one else around.
It redefined nail-biting.
So what it has to do with writing is this: When it’s so tense, and the teams are alternating the lead but never moving much beyond one point’s difference, you’re desperate to be released from the tension. But then, when a game is too one-sided – the outcome too obvious – it becomes boring.
Andy Griffiths spoke to our class recently, and he was cautioning against listening too hard to what readers say they want. “No kid would say ‘What I want from a story is to be terrified for half an hour’, but they love it.”
A friend of mine was talking about the pitfalls of publishing her novel online in sections. She said her readers were pestering her to resolve the unresolved sexual tension in the plot. But as she pointed out, they don’t really want her to do that. It would kill the forward motion of the book dead.
And lastly, watching Sherlock Holmes last night, the following exchange struck me as true:
Langdon: “Oh so many people, so little purpose – that’s God’s conundrum. If only we mortals could answer that!”
Holmes: “Then your life would have no meaning.”
There is something we want to solve or see resolved, but the reading/watching/living happens in the solving, not in the solution.