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.
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.
The 5 Best Pieces Of Writing Advice
The following are the five best pieces of advice to do with writing that I have come across. Obviously there are many excellent tips out there and how useful they are depends on the kind of writer you wish to be, but these are the ones that made a big difference to me and seemed to make the most sense.
Conflict In Story Is Like Finding Gold
Conflict is the key to writing an interesting and dramatic story.
When you come across a moment where the main character faces a difficulty, that is a precious and valuable thing to have found. You need to keep digging until you get it all out.
What you shouldn’t do is find ways to make the problem go away. In real life you should, in fiction you shouldn’t.
There are three main cop-outs I encounter again and again when it comes to writers creating a wonderful opportunity for conflict and then running away from it as quickly as possible. If you do any of these, you need to stop. You’ve found gold, stop throwing it away.
Throughline: Tying Your Story Together
It’s a simple task to explain what throughline means. It’s making sure each scene feels connected to the main story. Whether it’s pivotal or not, even if it’s a scene without any of the main characters in it, or part of a sub-plot, if it starts to feel unconnected the reader will lose interest, and any momentum or tension you’ve built up will dissipate.
What isn’t so simple is to explain how to make sure YOUR story has a strong throughline.
Drama Is Not Optional
Drama is the key ingredient to all stories.
Drama is wanting something you don’t have (or have and don’t want).
The harder the journey, the obstructions, the opposition, the greater the drama.
If people tell you your story isn’t dramatic enough, it probably means things are either too easy for the character, or what they are in pursuit of doesn’t seem worth the effort.
An easy way to make things more dramatic is to raise the stakes. More to lose, more drama. Harder to get, more drama. Better opposition, better drama.
Chapter One: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Usually I use my Chapter One series to look at the opening of stories by debut novelists, with a view to working out how they caught the interest of readers who had never heard of them. This time I thought I would look at a big name author and use his most recent best-seller.
It’s all well and good impressing a readership who already have a good idea of what kind of story/writer they’re dealing with, but when you’re the new kid on the block you need to win people over, and the first chapter is where the battle is fought. Or so the conventional wisdom says. What I discovered with this book was quite eye-opening.
Readers Love A Surprise
This isn’t about the big twist ending or amazing revelations (Wait, she’s a guy!), although people love those too. This is about keeping the reader from finding a story predictable and obvious.
Any story where characters do unexpected things, solve a problem in a way you never would have guessed, or make decisions that solve the unsolvable, will hook the reader. But at the same time they will lose interest if things get too random or unlikely.
Chapter One: The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a debut novel from 2011. It is one of those books that publishers decide will be culture-changing and so market the hell out of it. Most reviews praise the ideas and imagery of the first 150 pages or so, and criticise the story and plotting from there to the end.
Luckily, that is of no consequence here. We shall be looking at the (rather short) first chapter to see how Miss Morgenstern uses it to grab the reader’s attention, which she certainly does (even if later she loses her grip).
The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theatre office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.
Chapter One: Magician by Raymond E. Feist
The latest genre in my series of first chapter dissections is Fantasy. As with the other books I’ve analysed (here), I will attempt to work out how a debut novelist managed to create an opening to his story that successfully pulls readers in.
Raymond E. Feist’s Magician (1982) was hugely successful, and is still considered one of the great fantasy books today. Coming up with a swords and sorcery epic at a time when fantasy of that kind had pretty much been done to death shows there’s always room for more stories, in any genre. It’s such a good book that it encourages you to read the many sequels and follow-ups, all of which are terrible.
The storm had broken.