Monday, April 3, 2017

How To Turn Your Story From Good To Great

Writing your book might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. But what is the point in putting all that time and effort into it if you aren’t willing to do everything you can to make it the very best it can be?

You may think that getting your entire story down on paper is the hardest part of writing your book, but really that’s you just getting started!
Once you go back and begin to redraft your story that’s when the hard work really begins, and where you have an opportunity to really make your story stand out.
So how do you turn a story from good to great?
Use all five senses
It’s so important to use all five senses in our stories to really draw the reader in. Knowing what things smell, taste, sound or feel like as well as what they look like is how a reader can become immersed in the fictional world you have created.
Remember that senses can be used to say things that are unsaid, and doing so can increase dramatic effect. If something sweet tastes bitter to a character, for example, this gives us insight into their state of mind. If they can’t feel the heat on their face despite the sunshine, similarly, this lets the reader know how they are feeling.
Use the senses to create drama, to help readers engage with your characters and to transport them seamlessly into the heart of your story so they feel as though they are right there too.

Create memorable characters
It is easy to turn a character from typical to memorable. Simply make them flawed, freakish or eccentric in some way. A limp, a scar, a funny way of breathing, the way someone dresses or talks, an unsettling tic, extra long fingernails, a weird ritual that they have to do every morning. There are so many ways to add little idiosyncrasies here and there to your characters to make them stand out, but also more relatable too – remember humans are pretty weird after all!

Push the boundaries
This could be your boundaries or the boundaries of writing or even society. Basically, take some risks and go to places you might not feel that comfortable going.
Write sex scenes but don’t make them loving and neat, make them awkward or violent or graphic. If one of your characters is a bit racist, make them so, don’t skirt delicately around the subject. Your book doesn’t have to be pretty, your book doesn’t have to be safe. If you are willing to push the boundaries and stop censoring yourself you might well come up with some pretty compelling stuff.

Make your readers laugh
If you can make your readers laugh, or even just smile or smirk a little, your novel will improve. You don’t have to write a funny story in order for it to have elements of humour. Even in the most tragic situations, there is comedy to be found after all. Smart, witty characters are lively and engaging so if you can find a way to be funny every now and again your readers will appreciate it.

Make your readers cry
The books that stick out most for me are the ones that have made me cry. Some of them haven’t even been that sad, but still, have moved me in a way to the point where I’m all teary-eyed and filled with wonder. If you can make your readers cry they are emotionally connected with your book, they care – and that’s what writing a great story is all about!

I'm not sure, how, if at all, the above applies to memoir writing.  Many memoirs read more like novels, even if they are based on a true story. Some contain humor, which may have been the author's intent.  And if it's memoir on depression (as I have been working on), it's supposed to make you cry at some point in the story--shouldn't that be true? Notice how it says, "...If one of your characters is depressed it’s OK to write about the weird dark thoughts that they have. ..." Perhaps that could apply to a memoir on depression.

Even if I don't apply all the above ideas to memoir writing, I will keep them in mind should I try a fictional novel, which I have already begun, though I haven't worked on that one much recently. I'm still too preoccupied with the memoir, thinking it's not long enough for a traditional publisher.  I'm now in the 35K range, which many people say is too short. Many have said different traditional publishers require a particular length, such as up to 90K words, to have wiggle room for editing.  This has recently made feel discouraged, as I feel I have just been adding stuff just to make it longer. I believe effort put into the work should count more than the number of words. I've also been told that traditional publishers rarely print memoirs of non-famous people so I may have to consider self-publishing. And someone I know from college said the other day, that self-publishing should be considered if you (I'm paraphrasing): "...just want to get it 'off your chest' to share with some friends. But if you want to make money

I've looked up word counts for various memoirs using this site: Most of those I have liked up have been 60K words or more, some more than 100K. But When I looked up this one (I found a used copy at a thrift store), the edition I found is said to be 40,610 words. It's a very short book, so before I looked it up, I guessed it could not be in the 60K range or more. And I'd guessed right.  But I still can't seem to think that some people will say my memoir isn't long enough, and I'm hesitant about the possibility of self-publishing (one again, I'm thinking too far ahead!).  But others keep telling me I should not be worried about the word length, as  long as I enjoy what I am doing. I do enjoy what I am doing, but still feel I don't have as exciting a story as many of the memoirs I have read. It seems like you have to have a Harvard education, a rare disease  or condition, or have gone on a long quest just to be able to have an interesting story, but many have said none of that is true. I'm trying hard to believe all this. 

1 comment:

Meradeth Houston said...

Great tips! I wish I were better about the making people laugh bit--I do love a good bit of humor in what I read, but I definitely can't write it :)