10 January 2011

Biscuits with Jam

Something occurred to me about writing as I was having a biscuit a couple of seconds ago. It involves the amount of information I need to give my reader. Someone once said that " Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action" (actually that someone was Kurt Vonnegut but I suppose you don't really need to know that in order for me to make my point).
Anyway, that's what I'm talking about here, what biscuits, what jam? Does it reveal character or advance the action if I tell you?
OK, there's precious little action in a blog. The most interesting thing you might ever read in a blog might be the best kind of jam for a particular biscuit, but I'm making a story writing point rather than a blog writing point. You can get away with any old crap in a blog, people expect very little. But a story involves more complex issues. The jam could get in the way, the fact that jam was used at all might be irrelevant or, even more interesting, the jam could be there as a ploy, a device, a red herring, a means of diverting attention.

An example:

Jenny's gaze falls on the two McVities Rich Tea biscuits lying side by side on the kitchen worktop. Next to them stands an open pot of Robinson's Plum Jam, spoon gently resting on its scarlet surface. The brown speckled white formica stretches all the way from the kitchen door to the back door, interrupted only by the dark gash of the cooker hob. The door flies open and his face contorts with hatred as he recognises her.

Or, is this better?

Jenny looks desperately around the kitchen for something that might help. Two plain looking biscuits and a pot of jam are the only items in view. The door flies open and his face contorts with hatred as he recognises her.

It's hard to decide, except in full context, I suppose.

Still it's the sort of fun thing that I have to contend with when I go into edit mode. Getting the character from A to B is one job, but there has to be something for them to see on the way. My tendency is to whizz them along too quickly for a sense of place to be properly established. So I feel the need to read the name on the jam pot from time to time.

For the record, the only biscuits that can be enhanced satisfactorily with jam are Rich Tea. The very best jam to use is plum which has a nice firm sticky consistency. Strawberry is good but tends to ooze out of the sides when the biscuits are put together. Avoid Blackcurrent, it is much too lumpy and the top biscuit tends to take on a bit of a lean which makes for an untidy looking product.