…”in every scene, even the quiet ones, I try to create turning points, multiple turning points. So the reader knows how it’s going to turn out, but the reader’s expectation of how and why is constantly challenged.”
“The essence of the thing is not to judge with hindsight, not to pass judgment from the lofty perch of the 21st century when we know what happened. It’s to be there with them in that hunting party at Wolf Hall, moving forward with imperfect information and perhaps wrong expectations, but in any case moving forward into a future that is not predetermined, but where chance and hazard will play a terrific role.”
Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall
Winner of several Booker Prizes for her vivid historical novels about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, Hilary Mantel has spent a literary lifetime perfecting her ability to blend fact and fiction seamlessly in order to plunge readers into other times and places. She lives among ghosts and yet she must make them come alive for her readers.
As a master storyteller, surely Hilary has a lot to teach us. I love what she says about taking scenes and creating “multiple turning points” within them so that, even though readers may know what is going to happen, they are kept a bit off balance because they don’t know how or why something pivotal will unfold in the way it does.
Hilary’s approach: constantly challenging her readers’ expectations by creating “turning points” within scenes — sounds fascinating to me. What does she mean by this? I think what she’s saying is that she works hard to keep her readers immersed in a story by injecting an element of uncertainty into the encounters her characters have with each other. This embeds readers in the middle of the action: they are right in the moment with that “hunting party at Wolf Hall, moving forward with imperfect information” into “a future that is not yet predetermined.”
Creating “multiple turning points” within scenes seems like a very fruitful strategy. It’s a great way to keep a story fresh and exciting by allowing readers to see it unfolding from a character’s point of view. This must be difficult, but doable. I’m going to think about how to use this concept in my YA novel.
How about you? Does this technique seem like one you can use in your own fiction writing? I’d love to hear what you think! Write on.