When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.
When Albert Zuckerman wrote his acclaimed book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel (Writers House Press 1994), he made no apologies for directing this how-to-write book at those who want to pen the big story, the one that vaults a writer to the fore of his art, the script that makes movie makers drool. All novelists aspire to that (in the way all children aspire to be President), but few will achieve it. Nevertheless, the tips he shares serve every story well, even the niche novel that only appeals (though rabidly) to a cult of readers.
Here are the ones that caught my attention:
- create a character readers will readily identify with
- create a setting in a milieu people would like to visit rather than a poor working-class district of England
- offer a big dramatic question that will engage the reader’s attention from beginning to end
- give the people in the story a past
- have a distinctive voice. It can grow “out of your own special affinity for the English language, out of the rhythms, tones and nuances you hear and weave into your own mind of people’s speech, out of your own highly personal and somewhat skewed vision of the world”
- have an eye for detail. This “is more instinctive than acquired. But not for all details, only the most telling ones.”
- “The great storyteller has an acuity of perception as sharp as that of a visual artist and can make music in words. Not only in dialogue, but in characters’ thoughts and emotions, in visual perceptions, sounds, smells, palpable sensations, visceral reactions.”
- “Create fictional characters deeply involved with each other… It’s only about such characters that readers care. And for a novel to become popular, and to live on, we the readers must care.”
- “Energy, willpower and grit are also qualities … that cannot be taught
- “The author who cannot set aside a completed five- or eight-hundred page draft and start all over from page one, throwing out scenes and entire chapters, altering and enriching relationships, characters and locales, intensifying conflicts and climaxes, is also unlikely to attain the high level of sustained drama contained in most best-selling novels.”
- “A crucial and unteachable … element in a leading novelist’s toolbox is culture, widespread general knowledge, rich and varied life experience”
- “In its essence… a novel is emotion.”
- “The first thing to note about a big novel is that what’s at stake is high–for a character, a family, sometimes a whole nation.”
- “The life of at least one major character is usually in peril.”
- “In many major women’s novels… the principal stake is not life or death but personal fulfillment.”
- “A second key characteristic of the mega-best seller is larger-than-life characters
- “…the book’s opine–the ongoing central conflict around which its major characters interact, the main issue that drives and unites its myriad scenes–couldn’t be more basic and clear-cut.”
Even if you aren’t writing that ‘high concept’ novel, these are good guidelines.
Time for me to create my checklist (I love checklists) and review my draft with an eye for this list of details. See you in a few days.
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.