Sunday, 30 July 2017
This is something that all writers struggle with as they figure out how to grab the reader’s attention and maintain that interest. But there is reason why chapters should start and end a certain way – they are constructed to grab the reader’s interest, maintain it and keep it sustained throughout the novel.
The opening chapter of your book is always going to be the most important one, because it initially must hook the reader, then the rest of the story needs to be strong enough to captivate them. The end of that first chapter should then end in a way that entices the reader, it makes them pay attention or it teases them enough to turn the page and keep reading, because they simply have to know what happens next.
The hard part is to repeat this formula for almost every chapter.
That may seem a lot, but there’s a simple reason behind it. Writers do it because they must tease and tantalise the reader at every opportunity. The more they can provoke and evoke, the more interest they garner from the reader.
Generally speaking, each chapter is usually chronological – they chart events in order and so each time a new chapter starts, the writer has to lure the reader somehow. This is done my making the opening lines of the next chapter really interesting. How do they do that?
It depends on how the preceding chapter ended. Was there a revelation; did some big secret come out? Was the main character in mortal danger from a seemingly inescapable situation? Did something terrible happen?
Whatever it is, the next chapter is the natural continuation and so writers either get straight to the heart of the action and open moments after the last chapter. They use dialogue or description to catch the attention of the reader. But whatever the next chapter, it must be interesting enough for the reader to carry on reading.
The ending of a chapter plays more of an integral role. It’s an invite for the reader to read on. This can be anything, but it needs to lure, it needs to be interesting enough for them to continue. Think of it as a mini cliffhanger. These work well because almost always something unexpected happens to the main character.
The cliffhanger can be anything - it could take the shape of a huge revelation, which throws the main character into an emotional state. It might be that a truth is uncovered; the main character learns something which changes the dynamic of everything. Or it might be the main character makes a decision – perhaps a terrible one...or it could also be that the he or she is thrown into a terrible situation with no apparent means of escape. The stakes are high, the danger is imminent…
And that means the reader has to find out what happens next.
The next chapter should never cheat the reader. Don’t give them a cliffhanger where the main character runs from some kind of danger and she hears a noise and screams, thinking she’s about to be killed…and the next chapter shows that it’s a fox making the sound, which scurries off into the night. This stuff doesn’t stick and the reader won’t thank you for it. Don’t contrive; it does nothing for the story’s integrity.
The subsequent chapter to a cliffhanger should always follow. In other words, it follows the events. So if your main character runs from some kind of danger and hears a noise and screams, thinking she’s about to be killed, then the next chapter could start by showing how she evades the danger by thinking on her feet, or perhaps opens with her standing over a figure…
It’s a simple concept: Tease and reveal. Tease and reveal.
This is the case as the story moves towards its climax, where things become progressively more difficult for the protagonist, and writers often throw in one more big surprise twist at the end to ramp up every last ounce of tension and excitement and suspense. And it’s that magical ingredient suspense that really makes a story put readers on the edge of their seats. It’s all about uncertainty.
Will the hero survive the perilous fire? Will the revelation change everything? Will the story change dramatically after what has happened? What happens next?
The reader will just have to turn that page and find out…
AllWrite will be taking a summer break and will return 19th August.
Sunday, 23 July 2017
Writers use them all the time, but what are they? Why do we use them?
An archetype is a typical character, situation, theme or symbol that is easily recognised and very common in novels, plays and movies.
We always notice typical characters, or clichéd ones, such as the two-cop partnership, the quirky or unusual best buddies, the teacher/mentor student partnership, the sappy female who needs rescuing by the hero or the smart-mouthed wise guy and so on. These are familiar character archetypes, but we’re interested in story archetypes.
A diverse range of story archetypes can bring a different purpose to the story. It’s not about complexity; to make a novel look complex, but rather it’s about simplicity - story archetypes help the reader identify with the characters and the story and their situations, because they see something they recognise and they easily understand such experiences.
There are plenty of situation archetypes that writers use all the time. They’re commonly used and easily recognisable, and they represent just a small portion that you can find in all literature. There are dozens of distinct types of situational archetypes found on the internet and in books, and they all cite the same things, for instance, the Quest describes the search for someone or something which will restore order in some way to the character and his situation, or make something good again.
Another familiar one is the Journey, where the hero goes in search of something – the truth, information; himself...it could be anything. It’s not that different from the Quest - the hero or heroine goes in search of something or someone and it’s about the journey they take to reach it.
Another other common type is rags to riches. How often have we read about these types of stories? This is where the hero or heroine is born into a life of poverty, but eventually, through hard work, help or even underhanded means, they overcome this and become rich and powerful. Of course, the ‘riches’ don’t have to necessarily mean money. Sometimes we enrich ourselves through knowledge, family, or what we do for others.
Fall and rise is similar to rags to riches because it describes how the protagonist starts off in a position of authority or power, and through a spate of bad luck, other people being underhanded or perhaps because of his own actions, he falls from grace and ends up losing everything and finds himself at the bottom of the pile, but through determination, hard work or sheer luck, he claws his way back to the top again.
There are others, such as Overcoming the Monster. The monster in question doesn’t have to be the horror movie kind either. It can be a person or a corporation or something more sinister.
You’ll probably recognise some aspects of these archetypes in your own writing. That’s not a bad thing, and that’s because there are a finite number of dramatic plots to use, but limitless ways we can interpret them, so we use these archetypes to help the reader feel familiar to and connected with the story.
In addition to situational archetypes, there are also symbolic archetypes that appear in stories. Again, some are quite common and very recognisable:
Light and darkness is used so often in literature that it could be a cliché, but like any archetype, it’s how we use it that makes the difference. We use light and dark because it’s still an effective symbol. Light usually suggests something spiritual, it represents hope, renewal, positivity or good things, whereas darkness implies foreboding, the feeling of vulnerability, the unknown, fear or something sinister. Writers use these two tropes as a way of contrasting narrative.
Fire and water are used symbolically because of the different associations with them. Water can symbolise just about anything, from life, being cleansed or even a soothing entity. Fire tends to denote rebirth, fear and or death. Again, different people use it symbolically for different reasons.
Birth and death doesn’t have to be literal – these can represent our state of being, our psyche and thought process and dreams. Symbolically they’re quite powerful – birth can often denote gaining knowledge or a realisation, whereas death can signify a breakdown of something; a marriage, feelings, a vehicle...anything the writer wants it to be.
Colours are another symbolic archetype that perhaps isn’t used as often as it could be, but we use them to provide contrasting ideas or to enhance the narrative.
There’s no doubt that black and red are the most often used colours. Black represents darkness, the unknown, our fears, death and all things nasty and evil. Red, on the other represents life (and death), love, passion, anger, injury and emotions.
White represents the light, and so we associate it with something pristine or virginal, spirituality, goodness and purity etc. Blue, on the other hand, is a colour not explored as much as black and red, yet it can represent depth, feeling or soothing. Darker blues can be used to accentuate mood and tone, as can grey and green.
Of course, there are story archetypes in just about anything – characters, numbers, symbols, plots/stories, themes etc.
We use them not because they’re common, but because they provide us with different ways to enrich our writing. We actually rely on them quite a lot – they form part of the building blocks of writing and they help our readers become familiar with the story.
Next week: How to start and end chapters
Sunday, 16 July 2017
Drama is a vital ingredient for all good stories, it’s those tense, nail biting moments that eventually build to a crescendo, or they make us sit on the edge of our seats in anticipation. It’s what keeps us turning page after page.
But how do writers create drama? How do they make it work within the narrative for it to be effective?
All drama derives from circumstance – in other words, we can generally create drama in any given situation, depending upon certain factors, and most frequently than not, drama occurs in tense scenes or scenes of conflict, and the catalyst almost always tends to be lots of emotion.
There are lots of situations in any story that can cause drama – bitter sibling rivalry, a burning hatred of being wronged, the need for revenge, being misunderstood, or a desire to be accepted and so on. The list of dramatic situations is endless, but the one thing that drives all drama is conflict and emotion.
Conflict – disagreements, fights, struggles and friction etc – drives any story. It could be external conflict, internal conflict or a main central conflict. Whenever we create different conflicts, we also create different dramatic situations. This is how we make good drama.
Think about the best soaps on TV – they rely on drama; they thrive on conflict and emotion. Characters often clash, disagree or fight. Then there are the more conniving or devious characters that conspire, backstab and deceive. The main characters generally end up in some usual or difficult situations and we wonder just how they will escape such predicaments.
Behind these conflicting situations there is always an underlying emotion – jealousy, fear, hate, desire, deceit, betrayal etc. Emotions bring your characters into sharp focus; they are vulnerabilities that the reader will understand. When you unveil such vulnerabilities within your characters and push them into near impossible positions – what will happen? How will they manage to get out of it? Because of these ‘what if’ scenarios, and the apprehension of not knowing the outcome, you create drama and tension.
Writers also love to mislead their main characters. They like to force them to make bad decisions or make terrible mistakes, usually with awful consequences. This creates drama, of course, not only because of the heightened emotion that is created, but also because the reader knows what the right decision should have been. The burden and emotion of wrong decisions is something the reader will recognise and empathise with, so this creates a certain amount of tension, emotion and therefore the end result is a dramatic situation or scenario. The reader is left wondering just how the character will get out of such a situation - they will keep turning the page to find out. You’ll see this used very effectively in lots of TV soaps, TV dramas and movies.
The other thing writers do is create all manner of complications. That’s because the protagonist’s journey should never be an easy one, otherwise there would be hardly any drama to keep a reader awake. Instead we make our main character’s suffer, we complicate things, we escalate danger, we heighten conflicts, we raise the stakes and we push them to the brink. We force them to make bad choices and decisions.
How do you create drama? At key points in the story, mix conflict and emotions, mislead your characters, have them make bad decisions and always introduce complications. All these elements will produce dramatic situations and scenarios to keep your reader enthralled.
Next week: Story archetypes
Saturday, 8 July 2017
Part 1 looked at some of the ways writers can make their work stand out, especially if they want to be noticed by agents and publishers. These are things like description, voice and style, story and sentence structure, using the senses, full characterisation and so on, so in Part 2 we’ll look at some more ways that can help writers can stand out among the crowd.
What’s the first thing that grabs your attention when you open a book? It’s the opening chapter – something exciting, gripping or tense. Without that, you wouldn’t probably read on. Writers take advantage of that by being different or quirky with the beginning of their stories. They use clever opening lines that really do make us pay attention. That can be anything – a posed question, a snippet of description, a statement or even dialogue. How it’s presented to us makes all the difference.
Of course, we can’t leave out some of the vital ingredients in any story – conflict and action. Every story needs a certain amount of these, but it also needs emotion. It’s a sentiment that grounds us, so without emotion, how do you really tell a story and connect with the reader? Emotional connections through actions, and given rise through conflict, make your story unique. These three elements are so dynamic. Without them, your story won’t stand out.
There are some elements that writers use that others don’t. How many times have you read a book and noticed subtle symbolism? The use of symbols, or sometimes motifs, all provide juicy morsels for the reader – they love to spot these things. Novels that don’t contain any of these extra layers tend to be a bit bland. But if you want your novel to stand out, give the reader more than just a bland story. Give them symbolism or motifs placed throughout the story. Clever writers give the readers reason to find something different on a second or even third reading. That makes a story stand out.
Foreshadowing is another way to add subtle hidden depths to your story. Readers love hidden clues about what might happen further in the story, they love to uncover those hints. The more layers the reader uncovers, the more things they reveal. And that’s what can make a story unique.
A good story always knows what’s at stake. Obstacles that stand in the way of the main character and his or her goal and situations that seem almost impossible are ways to make a story stand out. If you show a greater understanding of what the story means for the main character and can show that importance translated to the reader, then the strength of the story will stand out.
Of course, every novel needs to be well-structured and well written for it to be noticed. Having all these literary devices and elements at your fingertips is all well and good, but they’re of little use unless what you write is actually well written. How you write is just as important as what you write.
Never lose sight of all these elements and you won’t go far wrong in your writing.
Next week: How to create drama in your writing
Sunday, 2 July 2017
It’s an age old question for writers. What makes one book stand out from another? What makes one so amazing and others less so? It’s especially important if you choose the traditional publishing route, and you need to impress agents.
From the outset, your writing needs to grab your reader’s attention and maintain that attention all through the story. It needs to continually captivate them, so much so that they’ll want to come back for more. To do that, your writing needs to stand out.
But how do you really make it stand out?
What makes a book a bestseller? A combination of things, since not all bestselling books would win a literary prize, but what makes them stand out is a mixture of elements that appeals to the reader, elements that make stories they enjoy, stories they will want to read.
To begin with, you need to find your voice, one that is strong and different. Voice is the way an author writes, coupled with a style that’s different. This is why some authors stand out more than others. How they tell their stories, in the style that they do, makes them instantly attractive to readers.
Make the story unique. That may sound strange, since all stories are unique, but what we mean by unique is that it’s a story that hasn’t been told before. Many stories share the same ideas or plots, but it’s the way they’re told that makes them different. Some writers present their stories as a diary, while others deliberately choose to mix POVs. Others skilfully use flashbacks. And some writers are clever enough to write their stories backwards – they start at the end and work their way through the events that led to that ending.
Sometimes it’s in the approach or the structure of a story that makes it unique.
Something else that makes a work of fiction stand out is description. Writers approach this individually – some use very visual or colourful descriptions, while others are more gritty and raw. Descriptions are vital for captivating the reader, so whether you’re eloquent, even flowery, or very visceral, always use description to masterful effect.
Use all the senses, use colour, use layers - don’t be afraid to be individual with the way to describe a scene. The imagery you create is what the reader will remember about your book; something they will remember. This is why we show rather than tell. Would a book be so memorable if all it did was tell and not show?
Attention to detail may not seem very important, but it is if you want that description to feel real for your reader. What goes on in the background of a scene is just as important as what goes on in the foreground. Think of a photograph in 360o. That’s what the reader wants – they want the full picture of what’s happening. Attention to detail makes your writing stand out.
Some of the stories we remember most are those with characters we love, or love to hate. What makes those stories stand out so well are the characters, the kind we can care about and sympathise with, the kind we want to win the day, and the kind we want to see get their just desserts at the end.
Multidimensional characters that can leap from the pages really can make your work stand out, because they make the story so real and so memorable. It doesn’t matter if they’re ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations, or whether they’re angelic or evil, make them unforgettable.
Notwithstanding great characters, a story that stands out among others is one that contains a well thought out plot. A tight plot is the skeleton around which your story hangs and without one, the story fails.
In Part 2 we’ll look at other ways you can make your writing stand out.
Next week: How to Make Your Work Stand Out – Part 2