The Spaces In Between

Writers have a tendency to polarise – antagonist vs. protagonist, plot vs. pants, good vs. evil – it gives us easy handles to grasp in what can be a very esoteric and slippery pursuit. But although we need to know the extremes, it's the spectrum in between where the best fiction situates itself - memorable protagonists are flawed; interesting bad guys have a core humanity. Complexity adds depth and interest.

But subtlety require distinction not vagueness.

Here's a list of ideas that are often confused, but where knowing the difference could make all the difference.

Action vs. Drama

How often have you read a novel opening with an obvious attempt to engage the reader with an action packed sequence, but it completely misses the mark – we don't know the characters involved, we don't know what's at stake.

Good action scenes work because they are dramatic, not because they are action scenes. Action is just spectacle without drama, but drama does very well on its own. If you're wondering how some quiet openings can be so compelling, then it's very likely due to it.

Pleasure vs. Happiness

Just because they can co-exist, does not make them the same. Being high on heroine is very pleasant, but it won't lead to happiness. My grand-parent's generation had happy times during the Blitz, but it can't have been pleasant. You get the idea.

Scene vs. Situation

A situation with dramatic potential does not make a scene – a scene requires that something changes for the character or the story by the end of it. A lovingly detailed situation is just that, until it becomes a scene - make sure it becomes one.

Prudence vs. Prejudice

Is it prudence or prejudice that makes the shop-owner keep his eye on those lads in hoodies by the sweet-counter. Is it ageism or common sense that makes us give the elderly driver a wide berth. Be aware that the character you think is being smart, maybe actually coming across as a bigot.

Love vs. Lust

Can't really avoid this one, and too obvious to need explaining. I hope. Often depicted as two very distinct things, but there's always a little bit of one in the other – how much is down to you.

Are there any other distinctions you think it's essential for a writer to make?


  1. Love your blog. I'll be back!

  2. This is a nice collection of reminders--thanks!

  3. @Merrilee thank you - look forward to seeing you around

    @becca - hey you - how's it going? still getting published on a weekly basis?!

  4. I think I should add -

    Theme vs Theology

    While I love a story that has depth of meaning, I don't enjoy being bludgeoned by it. As a writer I need to keep a light touch so I don't spoil the story.

  5. Completely agree, Ms Kitty. Always an issue when the message is clogging up the story. Doesn't necessarily have to be a heavy-weight theology either. Sometimes it's hard to let go of an initial idea (but I wanted my character to demonstrate through his arc the perils of drink!) when the story and character demand something else entirely. Sometimes you have to let go of the 'message.' Great addition. Thank you.


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