Fresh from an inspiring session with bubbly author Sarah Mussi and her publisher Shrine Bell, this posts captures some snippets of what I’ve learned so far on my novice novel writing adventure. I welcome your own tips and tricks to help us all make our writing shine, so please add your comments.
The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that we need to have a secret box of tricks. This is our very own box that we can open when we’re not quite sure where our story is going. The tricks can include:
A happy scene right before a really sad one or a dramatic change in location between chapters makes an exciting, emotionally charged read. Imagine you’re on a speedboat in Lake Garda, zipping through the crisp waves with a cold prosecco in your hand admiring a toffee sundae sunset. A moment later you’re in a damp caravan in the North of England. You’re holding a screaming baby and your hair smells vaguely of coffee. You’re listening to heavy rain pounding against the perspex roof. A great setting can really drive your story, and you can add more than one setting to play with your reader’s imagination.
If your work is feeling a bit flat you can raise the stakes to increase the tension. If your protagonist is a lady with dementia who wants to find her husband, that’s an OK story, but to be an excellent story, there must be a lot at stake making her goal so important. What if the lady has nobody else to support her? If her husband is the only person who knows where the deeds to the house are? If locating her lost love is the only way she can only stay in her home, and failing to achieve her goal means she will be taken into care? You can really increase the intensity by playing with stakes.
What stories have you loved the most? It’s likely that your favourites are ones where you’ve related to the characters. Beauty and the Beast is a huge success because Belle isn’t any old wannabe princess; she’s clever, funny and kind. She reads and she dreams of more for her life: she strikes a chord with pre-teens and their mums all over the world. Our characters really need to be like our readers. We need to show this to create empathy. They need to be likeable but also have little, acceptable flaws. Tom might be loyal, positive and kind, but his addictive personality might lead him to make the odd wrong decision despite his better judgement.
Your character should always be showing, not telling. Showing the reader what’s happening, right as it’s happening, is the way to go. This handy tool can avoid you waffling in past tense and making the reader a bystander rather than keeping them right at the heart of the action.
Sometimes things happen out of the blue in your book. You saw them coming, but your reader didn’t, and it could easily look a bit odd. To keep your story believable and maintain the flow, make sure there are seeds sown in your earlier chapters leading to an event or a conclusion. Not too obvious of course; you don’t want the reader guessing your ending in chapter three.
Between the lines
What’s not said is just as important as the words on the page, and subtext can bring so much depth to your characters. Make sure your character portrays their feelings through their body language, and let your readers work out the flaws in people and nuances in relationships for themselves.
There are so many tricks I’d like to add but I’m out of time. If you found this interesting let me know and I’ll post more another time. I’d also like to start a discussion about what makes the right structure for a story. If you’re interested in this let me know.
Find out more about Sarah Mussi.
Find out more about Shrine Bell publishers.