A to Z Challenge 2013

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How Deeply Affected Are You?

One of the distinctions of a good book is the ability to pull your reader deeply into your world. I recently had a wonderful experience with this while reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I've already reviewed it, so I won't go into too many details. I do want to talk about how I know its great writing. I'm not talking about the structure either. I'm not talking about Jamie Ford's ability to put a sentence together, nor the adjectives he uses throughout the work. I'm talking about the ability to make your reader feel the story. Let me see if I can describe the sensations I was going through upon reaching the last few pages.

The story comes to a close (like so many others) with a great deal of emotional impact. Now I consider myself a manly man (I ride a loud motorcycle, encased in leather), but I willingly admit to a pulling at my heartstrings by this book. I could feel Jamie's MCs, I longed to find out more, and I ached because I knew the story was over even though I really didn't want it to be. This is when I know that a writer has done their job and done it exceptionally well. There are good books, and then there are exceptional books. So the question to us as writers is this: How do we transcend being able to put a few words on a page in the right order to making our story so full of impact that the reader can't help but be affected? Here are some quick thoughts I have on the subject:

1. Tell the story. While this may sound completely obvious, it has to do with concise writing. Sometimes we get off on a tangent and the story loses focus. I'm as much a culprit of this as anyone. Sometimes our tangents are really good too, but we need to know when to cut the fat.

2. Describe adequately. Again, this sounds like another easy concept but its often enough hard to master. We have to learn to describe our realm well enough that the reader feels the wind on their face, hears the birds in the trees. We don't however, want them so inundated with description that they get bored or lost.

3. Make your characters human. Now those of you who write Sci-fi or fantasy are probably up in arms. I don't mean make your characters human, as in what species they are. I mean, remember that perfection in a species is rare (or unheard of), and the flaws in a character are what make them so likeable. Even the super model hunk, captain of the football team with more muscles than Schwarzenegger has a flaw. Don't leave it out.

4. Write from your heart. I don't mean your book needs to be the next great romance novel (unless thats the intent, in which case keep chugging). When a writer begins a story, its hopefully something they care a great deal about. We need to allow our love for the story to shine through, even when we're working on our 7th draft and dreadfully tired of editing.

5. End the story. This is maybe the hardest one for me personally - getting to the end. We write a story, we care about the characters, and we cherish the world we have created. All of this is great, but just like our children growing up, eventually we need to let go. Don't be afraid of the story's end. Every story has an ending, and even if its a dark one, its a necessity.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. So what did I miss? What do you think is necessary in order to really affect your reader?


Davin Malasarn said...

Nice post, Eric. You mention in some of these ideas that the concept is simple, but it's definitely not easy to execute well. Some of the simplest things are also the hardest. I really like your last point. I've never thought of endings in that way. Sometimes the most beautiful relationships are the ones that are limited by time. Knowing that it's not going to last forever sometimes allows you to enter something more purely.

Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic post! I find that your step 2, description is one of my weak points which I have to make strong because I'm writing fantasy!

However I think flow is necessary to but this can be accomplished with correct dialogue and actions. Easier said than done of course!

adrcremer said...

Thanks for this post, Eric. I think the key to reaching your readers is at least somewhat about restraint. You need to evoke setting and character enough that the reader feels they are walking alongside MCs, experiencing their worlds, and not being dictated too. Writers need to weave a complex and rich tapestry without making it gaudy. Striking that fine balance is what I strive for every day in my writing.