Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesdays, where I post (you guessed it) tips on writing every Wednesday at 5:00 PM ET. This week’s topic:
Everyone knows a good story is what sells a book. It presents itself as a premise, and if it delivers on the promises it sets up, boom! It’s a good book, and suddenly everyone is talking about it.
But what if the premise is awesome, the middle pulls you along, the climax ties up all the loose ends, but you still feel like something is missing? What went wrong?
Well, it could be any number of things, but this week, we’re focusing on a few things that add up to one big thing.
1) You found the premise. Congratulations!
This is a great feeling! Maybe you read a book, watched a movie, saw a picture, or listened to a great song that really inspired you. You know how your work is going to start.
2) You found the ending. Congratulations!
This can sometimes be an even better feeling than the premise. You know where you’re headed, and all you have to do is fill in the middle.
3) You wrote your middle. But it’s lacking.
Why? You had the premise. You even had the ending. Your middle is all there. You built a great sandwich. What’s the problem?!
One of the biggest, simplest, and easiest mistakes we can make as writers is to be so concerned with this great idea, our grand idea, the magnificent plot that’s going to make us famous.
Getting too focused on this part of the process is like voluntarily putting on blindfolds. Writing for the fame, heck, even writing for the ending can keep us from focusing on the very reason people are so interested in reading:
You see, the thing about knowing your end is that it can be freeing, because you have a goal to meet. And this is wonderful! But what catches me up sometimes is when I am so excited about the ending that I forget to enjoy the beginning and the middle. And one of the best, and most fun, ways to do this is by including characters you connect with, so you feel like you’re getting to spend a little quality time with your best friends, or your worst enemies.
PUSHING CHARACTERS IN YOUR DIRECTION
We writers control the story, yes, but do we always?
The answer is, well, yes and no.
For instance, you can’t (and shouldn’t) make a character do something that is unrealistic to that character, to who they are, just to fit the goal of your story.
The instant a character acts beyond the realistic parameters of who they are as a person, you have betrayed your reader.
Readers are intelligent. They know when something is fabricated.
If characters are the lifeblood of your story, and you bend them to your writerly will in an unrealistic way, it is essentially like giving them the blood of an unmatched donor.
On the flip side, however, if your characters act according to who they are, and interact with others accordingly, your readers will read your writing as the easiest writing in the world—and this is a good thing, because this means your characters become as real as the people sitting around them as they read.
WHY ARE CHARACTERS AS IMPORTANT AS PLOT?
Frankly, bad characters make for a bad book. A plot device is not exciting without stakes. Stakes don’t matter, don’t exist if we don’t care about the character going up against them.
Would we have cared so much about The One Ring getting destroyed if we hadn’t been exposed to the peace of the Shire? The loyalty of Sam? The despair of Frodo?
The answer is likely no.
It would be describing a movie to your friend and saying, “Oh yeah, this one planet in this sci-fi movie gets destroyed and everyone dies.”
Your friend’s reaction?
To nod along and say something like, “Oh yeah, that’s sad.” With no facial change. No emotion. No deep-rooted empathy.
Because yes, it’s a sad event, but they’re not connected. They don’t know the people involved.
Reading creates empathy. But empathy can only occur if you write people, not plot devices.
And thus my parting words to you this week are thus:
Remember to enjoy the journey alongside the people in your story. Remember not to rush to the end, because it is in the journey, the memories we make, that make life worth living.
Why should the same not be true of stories?
Alyssa Grace Moore
You can also find Alyssa on Twitter: @alyssagracem
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