Different Characters, Different Beliefs
In order to make a scene between two characters feel interesting it needs some degree of conflict. That’s fine if one character happens to be a cop and the other a robber, but the story isn’t always going to present you with directly oppositional characters like that.
But even if the characters in a scene don’t have anything to fight over and the scene isn’t highly charged or full of high stakes, you can still give characters something to clash over.
Story Questions Worth Pursuing
You don’t make readers want to know what happens next by not telling them what’s happening now.
There’s a guy, he’s being chased by someone. We don’t know who, we don’t know why. Clearly he doesn’t want to be caught, but other than that everything is a mystery. So as the reader you’re going to keep reading to find out what’s going on, right?
Well, maybe if you have absolutely nothing else better to do. But for most of us, that implication that everything will become clear if we keep reading, and that it’ll be totally worth it, just doesn’t pay-off in most cases.
Because it’s easy to make it seem like there’s something amazing around the next corner. It’s much harder to actually have something amazing waiting there.
So how do you make it clear that the journey will be worthwhile, and at the same time not reveal too much and ruin the surprise?
Chapter One: The Casual Vacancy
This is another of my posts on how a successful author hooks the reader at the start of the story, what information she feels is necessary at this point and how she approaches things like POV, character and voice (other first chapters I’ve analysed can be found here: Chapter One Analyses).
I chose The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling partly because it’s in the news, but also because it was a good opportunity to see how an author goes about winning over readers who might be sceptical or wary of her attempt at a new genre.
Good Endings Are Hard To Find
Readers want you to tie up all the loose ends, bring things to a close, make it satisfying and logical, and they want it to feel right.
And they don’t want to hear any nonsense about realism and how sometimes in life there is no answer, no proper endings, no closure. But then, ending a story isn’t about realism.
And they all lived happily ever after… What the hell does that even mean?
The end is just a place for passengers to disembark. Journey’s end. But what you need to have achieved in order to call it an ending isn’t always so obvious.
A Writer’s Reasons For Falling In Love
If your story has two (or more) people who fall in love, it’s easy to explain away those feelings in vague terms. She was beautiful, he had amazing eyes, it felt like he’d known her all his life, her heart skipped a beat and she just knew he was the one etc. etc. etc.
Although those sorts of reasons are perfectly believable and exist in real life as well as in numerous works of fiction, there is still a sense that the writer doesn’t really have much of an idea of why these particular people hooked up, or even what love really is. Readers make allowances for it because they don’t really know either. But just for fun I thought I would try to make a list of non-vague reasons for people to fall in love.
Writing A Bottle Scene
There are times in a story when not much is going on. Your character is isolated or apart from everyone else, away from activity or the main plot.
Readers may find this sort of scene dull or pedestrian and the suggestion will be to zhoosh it up somehow. This advice will most times be right. However, sometimes you want a scene to be low key or concentrated down to a few ingredients.
There’s nothing wrong with this, often the strongest character moments come in the quieter moments. But that doesn’t mean you should have long scenes over a cup of coffee and endless banter, nor does it mean you need a bomb on a bus and SWAT teams flying in through windows to make it exciting.
One of the best ways to see how to make the most of a limited situation is to take a look at what TV shows call a ‘bottle episode’.
Making Your Readers Care Like Your Characters Care
In any story the main character will have something on their mind. They will worry and fret based on how important ‘the thing’ is to them.
Just because they happen to think this thing is worth obsessing over or getting upset about doesn’t mean the reader will also.
Showing the character really worked up about this thing won’t automatically make the reader feel the same way.
Can You Be Trusted To Tell A Good Story?
Or, to put it another way, would you want to read a story by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?
In fact, even if someone sounds like they don’t know what they’re talking about, that’s enough to turn off most people. They don’t want to read that guy’s story, or listen to his views, or spend any time in his presence.
When it comes to communicating with people, especially people you don’t know personally, to ‘sound like’ you know what you’re talking about is more important than actually knowing what you’re talking about.
Storytelling: Is Knowing Craft Really Necessary?
There are plenty of successful authors of gripping, bestselling novels whose writing, if you look at it in technical terms, is crappy. But having an excellent grasp of grammar does not guarantee a good story, either.
So, does that mean learning the ins and outs of show versus tell and passive versus active writing is a monumental waste of time?
In many cases yes, it is.
Excessive Detail Can Kill Your Story
The difficulty with coming up with a story is that you start with no frame of reference. There’s you and there’s the blank page.
The advantage of writing description is you have a definite place to start. You may use your skill and talent to augment it, but when you describe a mug, you have a pretty good idea what a mug looks like to get you started.
This is why aspiring writers will often bury themselves in long descriptions. Because it’s easier. But that’s also why it’s less impressive, no matter how beautiful the prose. And why you have to police yourself much more rigorously.