Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Here lately, I've focused on raising the tension in my writing. One of the biggest worries of an author is that the books subsequent to the first are equal to or better than that debut release that started grabbing readers' attention. The author worries she was a one-hit-wonder and fears she can't improve on what she's already done.

Silly, but every author out there loses sleep over that concern. How does one continue to create the "gasps" you need in a well-written, eagerly read book?

Thanks to some very seasoned authors that published before me, and some realizations of my own, I've come up with a list that makes me stop and regroup, reanalyzing the just-written page to see if I indeed wrote words worth reading.

1) Dare to speak boldly.

That doesn't mean yell or make a character forceful. Boldly means using words that emphasize the feeling, setting, movement of plot. It means being willing to write using absolutes and fewer watering-down words. You may not write boldly in your first draft, but be unwilling to settle for anything less than brilliance and boldness when you edit. Then once you go bold, what are you promising your reader when you do? How do you deliver bold? Type the word BOLD and hang it big and bad above your computer, reminding yourself it's the only way to grab readers. When you use bold words, you tend to deliver bolder stories.

2) Define the Ruby Slippers in your story.

I learned this concept from famous mystery novelist Hallie Ephron. In the Wizard of Oz, the ruby slippers are the vein of the story. Dorothy protects them, eventually using them to go home. The Wicked Witch covets them. They are in the opening scene of Oz and close the book, taking Dorothy back to Kansas. They are unclaimed power, desired by all. It is subtle but ever there and easily recognized at the end of the story. This theme is the glue that helps hold your story together.

3) Learn from experts.

While how-to books are a must for any reader, what's more important is seeing how they pull off their masterpieces. When you identify weaknesses in your work, note it, then go to good books by well-published authors and note how they addressed your issue. The opening hook, dialogue, action, romance, tags, beats, whatever you strive to improve. Studying what is revered already in great books will teach you by osmosis how to correct.

4) Backstory requires a deft hand.

The biggest mistake made with backstory is telling it before the reader cares. A reader must feel drawn and willing to stick around, craving more of the tale, before you insert backstory. Even in social settings, we are drawn to individuals way before we care where they are from, where they work, or where they went to school. It's boring stuff until the reader cares about the character. The same goes for the author. The reader has to care about the story before caring how the author came to write the book.

5) The charisma of a character.

Authors define their characters, often writing pages of description before inserting them into stories. They want to see the characters as humans before writing about them. Is a character vain or self-loathing? Judgmental or empathetic? Nervous or laid back? However, what if the character is both? Therein lies great material to take a reader deep into a character's psyche. Find those opposing characteristics that cause clash in a character, when his opposing egos butt heads. That's heady stuff.

Writing isn't all promotion, and it isn't just telling a story. It's showing words to the point the reader can't help but stay up all night reading, because he wishes the words were 3-D real.

Are any of these topics a revelation for you as an author? As a reader? What tricks and skills do you think make for fabulous reading?


Sioux Roslawski said...

I love when a writer can take a character who I consider repugant, and make that character one that I root for.

For example, John Grisham's main character in the book "The Chamber." He's a member of the KKK. If I met him in person, I'd probably start frothing at the mouth instantly, but the way he was written, I feel sympathy for him.

THAT's impressive...

Anonymous said...

I agree with this. Learning from the experts- i am a huge fan of Michael Connelly. He does a great job of introducing a character through action and then giving the backstory along the way. You learn a little bit more through action and internal thought.


Hope Clark said...

Sounds like you two ladies already know where to go to find the experts and have studied them well.