Tips on writing that entertains | A List
Mention “entertainment” and what comes to mind might be movies, TV shows and improv comedy. Books and literary fiction? Not quite, perhaps, although Singapore writer Ovidia Yu might change some minds with her upcoming talk.
The winner of the regional S.E.A. Write Award, who is holding a free talk, My Writing Journey: Writing Great Lit that Entertains, at the Arts House, says: “Entertaining isn’t a matter of comedy and making the reader laugh, but catching the attention of the reader and keeping it for the duration of the book.”
Ahead of her talk, we ask the author of the well-loved Aunty Lee Singaporean Mysteries about entertaining reads, writing in an entertaining way, and the method behind the seeming madness. Read on for her entertaining replies.
What are you reading now that has you entertained?
Jenny Uglow’s Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense and Leo Damrosch’s The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends Who Shaped an Age. I saw them on the “new arrivals” shelf at the library.
I love Lear’s nonsense verse and Uglow’s book was entertaining and enlightening. I learned Lear loved drawing as well as writing and that he had epilepsy; I love drawing and also have epilepsy. A connection was made through what I hadn’t realised we had in common. The book left me encouraged and inspired.
Damrosch’s book gives an inside look at Samuel Johnson and his circle – what they ate, drank, argued and were petty about. I liked the feeling of learning from someone else’s life and experience without the discomfort of 18th-century travel and toilets.
What does it take to write in an entertaining way?
I think the one big thing you have to do is be aware of who you are writing for. Even face-to-face you would talk differently to a five-year-old child and a 50-year-old CEO, but you could probably entertain them both.
What do you do to produce writing that entertains?
Now that I’m committed to writing (at least) a book a year, my routine is sitting at the computer or with a writing pad for three to six hours, five days a week. I produce a rough map of ideas – I use paper and coloured pencils, or the Scapple app – then a very rough outline, and at least three drafts before the manuscript goes to my agent and editor. My writing goes through all these stages because I have to keep myself engaged and “entertained” by the writing or it would never get finished.
The other kind of writing I do is for myself – my morning pages on the 750Words website, evening pages in my three-year diary, and notebook scribbles putting down ideas and reading notes on the books I’m reading. Although these are not written for anyone’s eyes but my own, they do feed into my writing for readers because this is where I shape my thoughts and figure out what I’m thinking.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read as much as you can. Read what entertains and fascinates you, not what you’re told you should read. But also read what challenges you and try to figure out why.
I believe reading is like eating, it has to appeal to your taste, i.e. be entertaining, but it should also be good for you. And the reading that you find challenging may be the roughage that is good for your gut.
The replies have been edited and condensed. Details about My Writing Journey: Writing Great Lit that Entertains here.