A few weeks ago, I was asked to play the piano at a mock wedding.
Yes, a mock wedding.
The minister at our church needed to conduct the affair as part of the licensing requirements needed for him to marry a young couple from our congregation. It was great fun seeing people dress up as if a real wedding were about to take place.
First came two lovely bridesmaids in short black dresses, carrying bouquets. Then followed the bride herself, dressed in a long white gown and with a flower pinned in her hair. The groom looked handsome standing near the front of the church with his two groomsmen.
After I finished playing Handel’s ‘Largo’ to usher in the wedding party, the ceremony got me thinking about writing fiction (aren’t we writers always thinking about writing?).
Here are three random-but-useful lessons that occurred to me from watching two people pretend to tie the knot:
1. Writers Get Second Chances.
The mock wedding needed to be videotaped all in one take; no breaks were allowed because, in real life, you can’t pause a wedding and start again. Still, we were able to practise the ceremony a few times until we were all comfortable with our roles, and if we made mistakes we were able to start again. Afterward, our minister reviewed the tape to make sure it was perfect and ready to submit.
In the same way, we writers have the advantage of polishing our work until it shines. We don’t have to get it right the first time, the second time, or the third time. In fact, we have an infinite number of chances to make mistakes and fix them—that is, until we’ve submitted our work.
Once you’ve got your writing out there, you have only one chance to make a good impression. So, be sure to take advantage of your editing power. Allow yourself to write a lousy first draft, knowing you can revisit it later as many times as you like, until it’s perfect to submit to a literary magazine or agent.
2. Believability is key.
The people taking part in the wedding had to assume names and identities from a case study. Everyone had a role, and those roles had to come across believably for the minister to gain his accreditation. We had to refrain from giggling, eye rolling, or any other behaviours that would make the event or our characters appear fake.
In fiction, we have expectations of believability when it comes to our characters. We expect them to act and react in certain ways, depending on their personalities and circumstances. If a character breaks our expectations, there should be a good reason, otherwise we simply won’t believe the writer.
Events in our stories also need to be believable to readers. Nothing can happen at random. We just don’t buy illogical twists or events thrown in for the purpose of advancing the plot.
3. Thoughtful details set the scene.
To make the mock wedding appear genuine, a lot of thought was put into the finer details. Friends and family sat in the audience; the wedding party was dressed in appropriate wedding attire; the processional, recessional and register-signing music was well-chosen; and a friend came to the front to read a poem about love. These details contributed to the overall wedding atmosphere.
Now, think of a book that absolutely transported you into its pages. It’s the details that make those stories come alive and immerse us in the reading experience. While endless description can be terribly boring and turn readers off, thoughtful, well-placed details really help to set the scene and draw readers into your story.
Writing Lessons Applied
Here are a few questions to ask yourself next time you pull out your work-in-progress:
- Have I set the scene with thoughtful details? Are there long-winded descriptive passages that can be cut down or eliminated, or perhaps interspersed throughout action or dialogue so they don’t become overbearing? Is there a scene I could infuse with more details to make it come alive?
- Does my story require suspension of disbelief? Do any of your characters say or do things they normally wouldn’t, and you can’t think of a good reason why? Is there an event in your story that just doesn’t quite fit?
- Can I edit just one more time? You think it’s perfect just the way it is, but give yourself a few days away and come back to it. If you still see things that bother you or corrections that need to be made, take care of them before you send that piece out.
Maybe it’s just me, but I see writing lessons in almost everything I do. Take advantage of life’s little oddities and experiences by turning them into valuable advice for your writing life.