The Best Way to Keep One's Word is Not to Give It
Let’s talk about promises.
Napleon loans us the title of this post, “The Best Way to Keep One’s Word is Not to Give It“. Another one I like a lot, is “Promises are like babies: easy to make, hard to deliver.” (Sorry, that one is anonymous. I’ve got to wonder why?)
So, what do promises have to do with writing? Any number of things from keeping your deadlines to letting a friend read. But for our purposes today, I want to deal with the promises we make to our readers.
Elsewhere I’ve written about Dead (not Red) Herrings. These are a form of broken promise to your reader, and while they are not that uncommon, they are a sign of sloppy work. A Dead Herring is a musket you put on the mantle, but never took down and fired.
Books are huge—and sometimes rambling—things. Keeping track of all of the promises you make to your readers can be a daunting experience. Finding a way to do so is essential. No dropped clue can evaporate, no foreshadow or hint can go undelivered.
I’ll use another quote, something out of the California “beans, rice and enlightenment” era. “It is OK to not to promise. It is NOT OK to break your promise.”
There are any number of ways to keep track of the promises you make to your reader. For example:
- Use a Story Board. Sometimes done with sheets of paper taped together, sometimes on a roll of paper, with colored lines and symbols marking important points along the line of the story.
- Create a spreadsheet, either on paper or using your computer, and do roughly the same as above.
- I like to use yWriter, a specialized word processor for writers that keeps track of items, characters and locations, as well as helping format your work. See my writeup.
However you keep track of the atoms of your work, your Dead Herrings, your Muskets on the Wall, DO keep track of them.
I’ll be watching.