Some time ago I came across an exercise in a writing book that involved pausing in front of a closed door, thinking about both the door and what lay on the other side in detail. The idea intrigued me and I tried a couple of times, but the doors were always too familiar and I was in too much of a hurry. However, the idea of closed doors as a feature in writing stuck in my mind.
Without realising I’d already used this feature in my published book, West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s. The first chapter, ‘The Door Opens,’ starts like this:
“I stood as a four year old on the concrete steps, the wooden door closed in front of me. Tomorrow I’d be five and my school life would begin. The building seemed like a barrier in front of me, not at all friendly. I clutched my mother’s hand. Mum smiled down at me.”
On the last page I wrote,
“Six years earlier a little girl stood at the school door, ready for the next chapter of her life to begin. Now the time had come to close the door and open a new one.”
Doors are important in our lives, both literally and figuratively. We are forever opening doors and experiencing whatever is on the other side of a closed door. The door can be real, revealing something unexpected on the other side, or could be in our mind, leading to new opportunities.
I’m now more aware of how authors use doors in their writing when I read. Such an easy little trick adds detail, builds anticipation and delays suspense. Imagine your character pausing at the door of a familiar place, placing his hand on the handle and using senses to consider the moment. What will turning the handle and opening the door mean for the rest of the day?
The character gets time to think about what lies ahead. The writer has an opportunity to flesh out the character with a little, showing readers what drives them. The pause doesn’t need to be long, a few fleeting seconds can reveal a lot.
Why not try this trick yourself, with both familiar and unfamiliar entrances. As you reach to touch the handle of the closed door, think about what this means for you. Capture the brief moment in your mind before you enter. Build suspense about what lies ahead.
Now try the same with one of your characters next time they open a door to enter a room or building. Let their eyes take in all the detail, reveal their thoughts as they touch the handle. Let whatever’s on the other side be revealed slowly as the door opens, or maybe so quickly it has an entirely different affect.
If a barrier holds you back with your writing, imagine it as a door. Go through the same process of pausing, considering and opening so you can move forward.
Opening doors in your writing may seem such a little trick, but it can be an effective addition to a scene when the moment calls for it. Why not try it?