Jack Heath, best selling author of 500 Minutes of Danger. He held his audience captive, until his final word was met with an uproarious applause. When Heath asked who had read his books, he received a resounding thumbs up. He acknowledged his readers and launched into inspiring our future writers. ‘Each story takes about 100 hours to write and 200 hours of editing. The editing is the most important bit. And you’ve got to be willing to write the kind of thing you want to read.’
Heath wrote short stories because it forced him to boil stories down to the most basic ingredients. Stories have two main components — suspense and surprise were important for a comedy and worked in any genre. Eg., A man was walking down the street… He doesn’t see the banana peel… He walks closer… and closer… to the banana peel — suspense. At the last second, he steps over the banana peel and falls down a manhole…Aaaahhh — surprise. With his horror story he used an extension of this technique — suspense, suspense, suspense and then surprise.
Heath liked to start stories with a check list. What were 10 horrible ways to die? He listed problems (P), solutions (S) and complications (C) – where things needed to go wrong unexpectedly. Eg., plane to crash (P), parachute (S), rats had eaten holes in the parachute (C). Heath said, the most entertaining way of telling a story was to start with the problem — Opening line from ‘300 Minutes of Danger’ —‘You’ve been poisoned’. Then he used a ‘broken version’ leading into this opening line. He told the students a series of boring… events… yawn… leading up to the same line. ‘If you start at the beginning of a story you have to work forwards, but if you start in the middle of a story you can work forward and backwards.’
Also, Heath enjoyed the power of similes which allowed readers to not only picture something, but to feel and react — The pill was about the size of a maggot. It was like standing on a giant birthday cake. To show the contrasting impact of smilies, students were asked to picture two scenes. 1. The man fell down the stairs and hit the ground very, very, very, very hard. 2. The man fell down the stairs and hit the ground like a dead rhinoceros. Add Heath’s dramatic resonance and you have 240 students leaving the auditorium laughing. With the A Lot Of Books stall not far away, Heath was busy afterwards.