I’m going to wrap up this mini-series on practice with something few of you expect. Some of you might even be angry at me for bringing this up, if you weren’t already about angry about practice in general. If so, check in with yourself and try to figure out why this stuff makes you ticked. You’re only short-changing yourself by letting negative emotions dictate your writing.
The question for the week is: How do you make a story feel twisted, with lots of surprises? Surprising your reader is a practiced skill in itself, but there are some practical considerations.
You’re a reader. Go find your favorite books, and see for yourself what those authors did to pull you into their books. There’s a thousand techniques to pull readers in, you’ll discover some of those techniques when you analyze the books that pull you in. But there’s a trick to analyzing this stuff. You can’t just read, and you can’t just write your own stories. Do both, for sure. You need to also study.
Mystery writer John D. McDonald has a famous quote (paraphrasing a bit): You have a million words of crap in you before you can write a publishable novel. The more stories I write, the more I see how true this is. When I first started, I couldn’t plot my way out of a paper bag. I knew jack about character development. I had no grasp of voice, or setting, or pacing. Don’t tell the younger-me any of that.
So now, I’m switching focus from “NaNo-friendly” material, to stuff I really want to discuss. As an ML, there were certain topics I just never brought up unless somebody lassoed me into talking about them: politics, religion, rewriting, and practice. I’d occasionally mention practice in passing, depending on who was across the table from me, but never got into it.
A common attitude among beginning writers is this: I’m not ready to write this story, because I don’t want to waste words. I was no exception to this line of thinking. As if words were a limited commodity…
Approaching the end of a novel can be quite exciting, especially coming out of the bog that is the middle. You’re checking off scenes from your outline, if you did one. Those of us who don’t outline, can now see ways the book might end. (I’m typically 2-4 chapters from the climax when I can see my ending.)
No matter how experienced you are at writing, every novel suffers the one-third point problem. That is, you write one-third or so of the novel, and then all the energy and momentum disappears. You get stuck. You don’t know what to write next. This is normal.
One sentence at a time. Or one page at a time. However you divide up your novel, it should be in small enough chunks to be easily chewed. I tend to focus on the level of scenes. Fifteen minutes here, 250 words there, by the end of the day if I’ve put in enough writing time, I can get a scene.
Again, this was originally written with the National Novel Writing Month audience in mind, but the technique is important. In fact, I'd argue depth is the most important trick every fiction writer must learn. Learn how to add depth, and your fiction will become more vibrant and colorful.