Write Your Best Seller!
By Michael Rodriguez
Published by Michael Rodriguez at Shakespir
Copyright © 2017 Michael Rodriguez
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please visit your favorite ebook retailer to purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Before I obtained my permit and driver’s license I was already driving a 2008 Saturn Astra Hatchback through California streets. It was a liberating experience.
Studying for the written test is necessary if we want to pass the exam. Without that we can’t schedule a driver’s test. But reading about signs and driving laws on paper is one thing and learn from behind the wheel is another. The experience we get parking, adjusting to speed limits and navigating through traffic are all hands on things you can’t get through reading. Writing is the same.
We can study all of the elements that go into writing a good story, but if we’re not involved in a literary work, we’ll just keep failing to make it from the beginning to the end.
It takes reading experience to get a feel of phrases and metaphors that visualizes human behavior needed to express life-like characters and help the reader start a relationship with them. Without actually going through plots points, it’s like we’ll always need GPS navigation for directions. It’s time for that to change. I hand you the keys and put you in the driver’s seat and show you how to write a best-seller quality story.
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to stare at that blank Microsoft Word document, breaking my head trying to figure out how a good story will come out of that blinking cursor.
Before I went for my learner’s permit I already knew how to drive and I’ve actually learned more about what would be on the written test at DMV by physically driving on the streets than by readying and trying to memorize the book full of rules and signs. This tutorial will be exactly the same concept. I’m going to put you in the writer’s seat, your hands on the wheel and I will be the instructor next to you saying, turn here, turn there. We will go from start to finish. Ready to begin your quick road to becoming a best-selling writer?
Let’s get into it.
Stories need characters. Every story has at least one (the protagonist, the main character) and most have more, including secondary, tertiary, and minor characters—the longer the story arc, the more characters are likely to be needed.
But the names and physical appearances of character are just the surface of who they are. Readers don’t really care about a character that got a haircut, but rather a character that got a haircut in a quest to change his social status from the unpopular school boy to a more intriguing personality because he’s trying to overcome insecurity issues so that he can charm the girl of his dreams.
Here’s an example of a depth psychology:
It may be helpful to encourage John to express his fears ¬ through painting or drawing if he is reluctant with words because however odd or irrational they seem these fears are really the reflection of a particularly rich imagination which he finds hard to accommodate within the verbal exchanges of daily life. If not, John will feel forced to bottle these fears and become prone to anxiety, tensions and feeling fearful in his approach to his surroundings and people.
We may commonly expect for fear to be solely the result of trauma or insecurity, but having a vivid imagination that expands on a constant growth rate can create its own unique consequences, if not channeled properly. Imagination expands the range of our perception of the world around us and if we don’t embrace and express it, it has no other place to go but back inside our minds. We may feel inadequate for not taking the opportunity to release creativity that would in turn help us grow into a more rounded personality.
Understanding the foundation for John’s fears gives us the opportunity to coherently reveal his behavior in any story situation, so that we’re not just placing a story character in a scene just to fill up space. If we don’t understand where the character comes from, how can we determine where he or she is going throughout the story?
This is how we can develop a character growth chart. It is not necessary to use diagrams, but plotting the changes a character goes through is crucial if you want to move the story forward. You can have a well plotted story as far as events are concerned, but if the characters seem to just pop up here and there, it will show.
For the reader to relate to a character in the story, he or she should have a clear visual of the characters’ inner working; fears, hopes, insecurities, alert, etc. A character may cry out of the blue, but if there isn’t a reason why the character is crying then the reader won’t have any reason to empathize. These are the things that we relate to as humans, and human is what you want your story character to be.
So how can we take a depth psychology and turn it into a story narrative? We know the foundation of his dilemma is that his fears are really the reflection of a particularly rich imagination which he finds hard to accommodate within the verbal exchanges of daily life… Let’s see a few examples on how we can express John.
For our first example let’s create a mini plot of events that will take John through life changing scenes.
Scene: In a supermarket.
1. John stares at a grocery item on a shelf. A series of improvised recipes flashes through this mind.
2. A new coworker, Carol, sees him and goes to him for a conversation. She asks him questions about the company, in particular, about the CEO who seems to be at odds with her.
3. John tries to compare the workings of the company [to show her the CEO’s behavior is normal and necessary] through a frame of recipes and cooking, but it doesn’t amuse her.
We would have to open the scenes with details and back-story, but we already have a mini-plot by simply understanding an important foundation in John’s psychology. The reader will already have become familiar with an intimate aspect of the characters through their behaviors, dialogues and interactions with one another. The only question left to ask is where to take the character through the following scene. Maybe John feels embarrassed and feeling inadequate rushes out the supermarket, only to encounter other awkward situations. Perhaps, John liked Carol and blows the opportunity to gain her interest in him and plunges him into a depression full of fear and confusion. Who knows, maybe Carol is the one to help him balance out his ideals with a down to earth social chatter. It would be interesting to see John get a better handle of his own issues. It is like writing a how-to book in a novel form.
Let’s see how John’s mind works in a brief story narrative:
“John?” Mrs. Jane called a boy withdrawn into his own thoughts as he dazed towards the window of the classroom. “John?”
The rest of the class laughed after a paper ball landed on John’s head. John turned around alert, looking for the perp who interrupted his muse.
“Settle down class,” said Mrs. Jane. “John, honey, can you tell me what’s on your mind?”
John struggled to describe the symmetry of leaves that faced the same way that seem pleasing to John’s eyes. “The curves of the leaves,” said John. “They’re like little umbrellas.”
Laughter filled the classroom even louder.
This above scene may be the catapult that leads John into realizing that his social environment is at odds with his normal self. Perhaps, he withdraws into isolation and anti-social behavior that will motivate him towards violence and rebellion.
Let’s examine another example of a depth psychology.
Jane has an innately helpful and conscientious nature, and is therefore likely to be very eager to please others, a lovely quality which will inevitably earn appreciation and love, but which may also be taken for granted or even abused by those who forget that she is not cheap and to be made a slave of.
Now that we’ve seen how to create a mini-plot and a express a narrative out an element of depth psychology, let’s go back a step back towards establishing the genre which we will govern the elements of story writing. Is it contemporary romance? A young adult fiction focused on family drama? Will it be a psychological thriller or will Jane be a serial killer in the making turning the story into a Crime? If we wanted to write Jane into a mystery, she might discover a paranormal realm in pursuit of revelation that changes her life forever.
In fact, discovering the genre of your story should be the first step, as each genre has its own unique requirements, ranging from word count to story structure to other areas of focus.
Once you understand the characters and have selected the genre, select a plot (a series of events) that will help take your characters from here to there.
I hope this brief tutorial on creating human-like story characters has helped you in any way to develop intriguing characters your readers will relate to. For a resource on personality profiles for story characters you’ll want Bringing Story Characters to Life!
A story certainly needs a plot. We have to feel the characters will do something interesting and it will be a tale worth telling. But part of the reason a story is interesting is who it’s happening to. Everyone’s unique, and a well-drawn character will help create a unique plot. Many literary sources offer instructions on how to create characters, but Bringing Story Characters to Life is a resource for writers that will help you draw characters from the most intimate foundation, our thoughts and feelings. With this book you will learn how to tap into a gold mine of material in order to generate good character with ease and have at your disposal story character profiles for your literary use.
Bringing Story Characters to Life!
List Price: $19.99
5” × 8” (12.7 × 20.32 cm)
Black & White on White paper
Now let’s examine the short story, The Heart of Sycamore. Each paragraph will be followed a commentary.
The title, The Heart of Sycamore, allows for at least a double meaning if not more. We know that “the heart of” implies a fondness of a person on an emotional level, something deeply desired or cared for, but Sycamore is not a human name, but a tree or a place so that the title would indicate a person or people are the significant center of a place. Articles and How-to’s require titles that are straightforward, but fiction stories become alive in mystery and suspense. Even if you’re genre is science fiction, historical or romance, there should always be an element of mystery in your stories. The title is the first thing that readers look for and if it doesn’t hook the reader, don’t expect for it to sell. If you want an effective title, choose something that is in itself puzzling. Now let’s examine the story.
The town of Sycamore spread itself tidily along the coast of Oxnard with the lively waters of the Pacific Sea splashing at its feet. The hills and cliffs rolled green above it, even now in the desolate winter. Some said when the air was quiet and the stars were glimmering studs in the night sky, a keen ear could catch the distant sound of drums and flutes playing from the lush beneath the fairy hill where a cozy cottage made its home.
A graceful narrative makes all the difference in how your story is marketed. A poor narrative rushes through your scenes, while a good one is patient and detailed. Adding unnecessary detail will of course makes certain lines senseless, so you only want to include what is necessary.
The first line introduces the town of Sycamore, because what matters more is the heart of it, which the reader won’t know for sure unless he or she continues reading. Ideally, we’d want to illustrate the town of Sycamore before introducing whatever the heart of it is. If the town of Sycamore is vague then how could the heart of it be valuable?
Setting is important. If your story only mentions a single location then the reader may feel overwhelmed by all the activity occurring within such location. We don’t want to rush into a scene while at the same time avoid taking too long to develop the story. The key is knowing when to write a specific way. As an introduction we want to illustrate the town and prepare the reader for the scene that will dominate the story. So it …. spread itself tidily along the coast of Oxnard with the lively waters of the Pacific Sea splashing at its feet. Here the words “spread” and “splashing at its feet” gives the description a comparison. This is what makes for a graceful, illustrative narrative when we denote comparisons to locations or persons. The word tidily indicates that the coast is neat and we might imaging luxury homes or a lush geography. But our perception is clarified by desolate winter.
It is useful to use comparisons and the opinions of characters as often as needed. Instead of injecting the narrator’s opinion of the setting or creating a character to give us a direct point of view we can share how the place is rumored to be…when the air was quiet and the stars were glimmering studs in the night sky,…. And so that a description is not just there just to make up word count it is followed by an effect which will eventually take us to where we want the story to go…. a keen ear could catch the distant sound of drums and flutes playing from the lush beneath the fairy hill where a cozy cottage made its home.
The phrases …sound of drums and flutes…the lush beneath the fairy hill….a cozy cottage… all have a calming, poetic effect in the narrative and more importantly, it is consistent. Remember that one paragraph is one main idea supported by details so we don’t clutter a paragraph.
Let’s continue with the story:
There were some who believed the music was real, and that it played for soul mates.
Here, we’d want to let another description through use of rumor, which makes the setting more personable to the reader with the use of … soul mates, before redirecting the reader’s focus back to the reality of the story.
But on Christmas Eve music pumped into the chilly winter air made by the clashing of glass pitchers and voices.
We maintain the consistency of “specialness” through the contrast of rumor and the reality of the story.
MacDonald-Berger’s Pub was packed with friends, family, and the occasional paying customer. It was the one night of the year the pub would close its doors early, and those who lived in Merryland crammed in to celebrate the holiday with pints and songs.
Using the word occasional before paying customer creates humor and distinction, which is a very important tool. We don’t want to go around distinguishing everything we write, just where it matters most. We now understand a place that is remote yet lively in this special occasion that only comes to life once a year and after normal Pub hours to add suspense. We know the Pub closes its doors early for this gathering, but what happens there during that time?
Behind the walnut bar, Alex MacDonald-Berger pulled those pints and held four conversations at once. He did so with the skill and pleasure of a born diplomat. At the far end of the bar, his dad did the same.
We want to introduce color and objects into the setting, but not irrelevant random things just to justify a sentence. Furniture is a crucial part of creating real imagery in setting. There will always be some kind of tree or desk or a shirt or anything that adds substance to characters and locations, to help the reader see and relate to what’s going on.
The walnut bar is not just a walnut bar, but it consequently opens up the perception of a liquor bottles behind it and possibly above it. We also picture a talkative man pouring drinks because that imagery is common for bartenders. More importantly, we don’t just read about a character performing an activity because the narrator feels like speaking. It goes with the story and is a perfect time to introduce supporting characters doing the same, his father.
It was good, Alex thought, to have his parents home for a change. And to show off his bar skills with the man who’d passed MacDonald-Berger’s into his hands. He could hear his mother’s voice raised in cheerful song while she bounced Jessica, his child, the light of his life, on her knee. And while he filled another Guinness with one hand, made change with the other, he could watch his wife Jasmine, his honeycomb, delight the crowd with taking orders.
Every character has their individual story and all of their stories add to the main story, whether short or novel. But we don’t just mention back-story wherever we feel like it to avoid making the story hard to follow. We must be crafty and the best way to do it is to relate segments of their back-stories; their thoughts, experiences and emotions to immediate relevant activities. In this case, the bartender is just displaying a positive demeanor for no reason, but because he’s happy that the family is gathering for an occasion and he wants to impress his in-laws.
A good story does not suffer a drought of characters. Wherever there’s a father, there should be a mother, unless a story indicates otherwise. It would also be dull to just mention another character’s name just passing by simply to demonstrate existence in the story. In addition, we don’t want to let the narrator relate to the characters, but let the characters relate to other characters. This allows us to get to know the characters more intimately. He could hear his mother’s voice raised in cheerful song illustrates a potential smile in his face and while she bounced Jessica, his child, the light of his life, on her knee…shows her activity, having fun and introducing yet another character. So far we’re not just introducing characters, but connecting their activities at the same time to give relevant reason to introduce them.
Jasmine’s grandma sat by the fireplace gossiping with old Mr. Hicks, and his sister Judy’s in-laws, the Queens from New York City. The scent of sweet smoke fill the air, with the yeasty aroma of beer, and when his sister-in-law swung through from the kitchen with a tray, the rich, full scent of his brother’s beef stew joined the mix.
We’re introducing new character engaging in activities relevant to the occasion and the setting, but we can illustrate the story further by triggering the senses. However, we must take care to add what is relevant and reasonable to the setting. Sweet smoke and yeasty aroma of beer, together with Jasmine’s swinging through from the kitchen to deliver a beef stew that another character cooked add the variety of elements that together illustrates a realistic story. Realistic is what you want, even if it’s historical fiction or science fiction or any kind of fiction, there should still be a sense of realism in relation to the story in order for the reader to relate and enjoy what is going on. It’s not good enough to have the character smiling if the reader isn’t.
“You’re almost eight months along,” Alex called out as she carted the tray through the pass-through. “That’s too heavy.”
Notice, that with each passing sentence and paragraph, the story and the characters back-stories are introduce seamlessly, without breaking the stride of the narrative. These back-stories are not intended to just offer information but to introduce elements of characters like concerns. We should never describe a character either smiling, worried or fearful without good reason and what better reason than to contrast an individual characters inner character against that of others and the environment.
“I’m tough as a stallion.” She tossed her blonde curls, and there was a gleam in her eyes. “And if I stay in the kitchen with Max another five minutes, I’ll be forced to drown him in his own stew pot for nagging me about putting my feet up. If I wanted them up, they’d be up.”
When characters dialogue, it is important to take the opportunity to show their personalities, thoughts and feelings. Each character should have a distinctive attitude and philosophy just as a real person would, to set them apart from all the rest. If all or most of the characters of your story seem the same it’s usually because your narrative is lacking the social dynamics that provoke individual expression.
We see also that Jasmine’s reaction is not limited to what her husband is saying, but introduces yet another character that hints at yet another back-story. More importantly, don’t be afraid of letting your story characters be who they are by limiting them to who you are. This is how as writers we get to push the limits of our individuality and if we don’t observe and understand people, then we won’t write characters very well. As an excellent exercise, next time you write a story, start with the people you know.
She moved off, the baby she carried like a basketball under her faded sweater. Alex had only to catch Jasmine’s eye, nod in Brenda’s direction to have the matter dealt with. Jasmine wound her way around to Kendra, had a quick word. Moments later Kendra had the tray in hand and her very pregnant daughter in a chair.
It is important to set character limits. Unfortunately, we won’t give all the characters in our story equal opportunity, however much they’d want stage time. It is up to us, like a producer of a play, to determine what length of words we’ll allow a character to exist in. This is determined by the direction of our story. We didn’t stop at Alex’s father and continued with his back-story because he’s competing with several other supporting characters and he is not a center figure. The story is not about him.
And so we’ll leave characters behind at certain locations in the story and that’s fine. As long as we’re moving the story forward.
So far we’re guided by a narrative that is made colorful by character reactions, distinctive personality traits, back-stories, food and furnishings that all set a mood and atmosphere consistent with an occasion. Next time you’re revising your story, look out of any elements that stand out, that doesn’t connect well with the rest and consider improving it.
Inconsistencies are not all you’re watching out for. We must understand what our story is about so that every element we introduce to it blends well. Maybe Jasmine’s belly shouldn’t be a big as a basketball or wearing a shirt rather than a sweater. Maybe she’s docile rather than blunt.
So everyone’s where they should be, Alex thought. Or nearly. There was one he missed seeing moving through the crowd, serving pints and bowls, adding her voice to the conversations. Without his sister Judy arguing with Max, flirting with the customers or stopping by the taps for a quick gossip, it wasn’t quite Christmas.
There’s always that moment in the story when time seems to stop and the busy activities slow down to make way for pondering. When the narrator shows the inner thoughts of a character, it serves as a break to the reader, a change of feel that intensifies the relationship the reader will have with the character. These moments of reflection makes it easy for readers to relate to characters and hopefully appreciate the movement of it all. At the same time, it also allows the narrator to introduce characters that are not present in the current time and setting of the scene.
Judy had a life of her own, he reminded himself. A new husband, a new job. In the four months since her wedding, she’d been seeing the world as she’d always wanted to. In a first class leisure. And he was thrilled for her, content that she was happy and that the man she loved was one he could respect, one he appreciated as a friend.
But, she was missing from him.
So we don’t just mention Alex’s sister, but that he misses her and why. This offers a contrast between routine activity and personal life. Though Alex’s reflection we were able to squeeze in Judy’s back-story and potentially signal to the reader that Judy could be in fact, a main character of the story.
Of course she wasn’t just traveling and basking in the luxuries of hotel suites. She was working and working tirelessly. Her voice might have been a natural gift–that was the MacDonald-Berger way–but recording for a man like Jax Queens would be no walk through the park, Alex was sure.
Occupation is just as important to the story and your readers, as fashion and setting descriptions are. They help to shows us something about the character because media has done a good job of showing us people perform in various professions. For example, we’ve all seen the good cop and the bad cop and their distinctions, but we also know they function with commonalities; uniform, terminologies, lifestyle, etc.
“Three pints of Harp, two ginger ales, pint of Guinness.” Jasmine touched a hand to his before he reached for the glasses.
“What’s the matter, you sad?”
Here’s a good way to determine how to break from a momentum on your story and turn its direction is a smaller environment. We can’t spend the whole story describing the place and watching characters move around. The special moments in a story are heart-to-heart moments that reveal what’s truly bothering a character underneath the smile we tend to show the world around us. Our secret thoughts are only revealed when we’re talking with someone we trust, away from the supervision of a prying world.
“Just missing Judy.”
“They’ll be here tomorrow, the next day at the latest.” She paused a moment. “But I know, it’s not the same.”
“It’s not, no. It’s awesome having my parents here, and your G-moms, Jax’s parents. It’s Jessica’s first Christmas.” He glanced toward his daughter again, cooing under his mother’s lullabies. And his heart simply swelled. “It should be enough for anyone.”
Notice how Alex glances at his daughter. This is a follow up. Follow ups are what keeps elements in stories within memory range for the reader and builds upon the characters we’ve introduced, but not always for the sake of giving character “air time”, sort to speak, but to keep revealing facets of a main characters inner life.
Not for you, Jasmine thought, not at Christmas. Not for a man with such deep love for his family and such a deep appreciation for tradition. She loved him for it. It had been Alex who’d hauled down all the five boxes of decorations for the pub, for their home. And both places that were so dear to him, and to her, were alive with the spirit of giving.
It’s interesting to see that a character’s inner thoughts can be completely different than what he or she spoke, just as real people do. In this case, it also allows for narrating more back story about Alex and reveal more about the nature of who he is.
Twinkling lights hung from the eaves outside, from the rafters in. A little white tree stood on the bar counter and was dripping with ornaments. A smiling angel hung on a wall holding a trumpet, and tiny plump dwarfs swung over the windows. There were sleigh bells on the door and gift wrapped boxes on the corners.
It’s essential when a look at a descriptive setting proves what is being said about a character. Here we get to see the work Alex put in and why Jasmine’s thoughts were justified. It also lets the reader breathe a little from social activity. Here, the purpose of revealing a descriptive setting is to introduce another character, but it is even more interesting when we add the element of suspense, at least to Alex who doesn’t see the person he desired to see the most enter the scene that exact moment.
He was turned away when those sleigh bells jingled, so didn’t see who walked in, or his wife’s wide, pleasant smile. But he heard the voice pick up the chorus on Joy to the World, and swung around as Judy plucked his daughter off his mother’s lap.
She sat the happy baby on her hip, started toward the bar. Alex flipped up the pass through, met her halfway. Then squeezed them both between his arms.
“I’ve missed you so much.”
“Don’t make me cry, honey,” she murmured. “I worked forever on my face.”
“You don’t need paint to look beautiful.”
We should introduce elements of genre seamlessly and as often as the story allows. We went from suspense to romance in a heartbeat. This is how paragraphs change tone, image and feel. If we take too long the story will sound monotone and drag for pages. This is seen where paragraphs are essentially about the same thing, without taking the opportunity to cover various aspects of a story environment and relationships.
When it comes to relationships, I don’t think in terms of boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, but that every two persons have some kind of relationship, whether it’s a good one, a bad one or a non-existent one. Write with this in mind as you introduce your characters to your story.
She eased back, smiling. “Aww, my sweet baby. I couldn’t stay away from you.” She wrapped her free arm around him, pressed her cheek to his. “I had to wake up Christmas morning in Sycamore.” She grinned fiercely over his shoulder as Max came out of the kitchen.
She eased back, smiling….. wrapped her free arm around him… pressed her cheek to his…..She grinned fiercely over his shoulder as Max came out of the kitchen. These are all aspects of human behavior that give us front row seat into the inner workings of a character without telling it. Instead of itemizing movements, we should blend them in with dialogue so that different aspects of storytelling can occupy a paragraph.
“Well it’s about damn time,” he said. “These steaks aren’t going to season themselves.”
Contrast is vital in a story, especially when it comes to characters. From one moment to the next a character can inspire us to cry and the next, laugh. A good story is a roller coaster, but one that makes sense. We’re already seated and belt-buckled the moment we picked up the book to read, but the rails that carry us through should direct the course logically, clearly and steadily paced.
“Can you grab her a moment?” She passed the baby to Alex. “I won’t feel at home until I’ve thrown something at Max.”
It’s fun to see character relate freely as if they’ve known each other for a while. People who read stories want to observe and experience life outside of their normal routines. In addition, we see the story characters grow on the reader as they learn to asses them from their actions and reactions. Without these there are no social dynamics.
Because she didn’t have anything handy, she threw herself at him the minute he stepped around the bar. After a quick exchange of words and friendly slaps, they were dancing.
“Thanks for bringing her back,” Alex said to Jax. “She was the missing ornament.” Jax skimmed a finger over the baby’s cheek as he glanced toward his parents, around the pub to the people who’d become his extended family.
“I’ve missed this place, too.”
We introduced a new character, Jax, without rolling out the long, red carpet, but rather started a dialogue from a character we already know, Alex. This is an important tact, since otherwise we would need to turn the reader’s direction to narrating outside the main characters field of vision. This is how we stick to the main characters, the ones that take the most spot light throughout the scenes.
Later, when the pub was closed it was the MacDonald-Berger house that strained at the seams with overcrowded relatives and catching up. A great wooden bowl held the wassail Jasmine had made herself from Max’s recipe. Cups of it were passed lavishly while the MacDonald-Bergers, in the MacDonald-Berger way, made music with piano and guitar, with voice and with squeezebox.
Personally, I don’t know how to speak without exaggerating and this is crucial to a good story. You don’t want to state all things plainly to keep things down to earth. We should never sacrifice a graceful narrative for the sake of being too straightforward. For example, strained at the seams with overcrowded relatives inspires humor as it does clarify perspective for the reader. If we state things too plainly as in … the place was overcrowded…we can lose the reader’s interest due to boredom. The only place a reader expect to be told plainly and concisely is in a How-to book.
In the front window, a glowing snow man showered light within and without. Beneath it, children huddled around. Between the songs, there were stories, and through it all there was laughter.
There’s no limit to how many character a story can have, even a short one. Examine the paragraphs in your story and see what you’re illustrating there. In this case, we’re still adding to the consistency of the scene, an atmosphere of joy and family in an occasion that is meant to have many people.
But despite the heartwarming occasion, Alex felt there was something yet missing.
This is what a twist looks like. The moment when the mood changes by intensifying Alex’s concern and the reader understands that the story will take a different direction. Otherwise, the reader would feel like he or she is on a sea saw, rising and falling, without any rhythm or rhyme. It is our job as the writer to lift the wooden plank and let it descend.
He put the baby to bed himself, lingering over her long after she had closed her pretty eyes. “Soon,” he murmured as he bent one last time to kiss her cheek, “you’ll be adding to conversations. Adding to the noise and people and scratching away at presents. It’s family and years of roots and magic. It’s one night out of the year everyone remembers there’s magic left in the world.”
When he left her, he didn’t see the fairy that hung over her crib glow and spin. Or his daughter’s sucking her thumb.
What better way to add the reason for it all than by having Alex speak to his baby daughter and use that moment of private, heart-felt dialogue to hint at what the future might look like. Time is part of a scene, but thoughts transcend the passage of time. It would have been almost pointless to have the narrator spoil this special moment that fuels the appreciation the reader might have already developed with the character.
It was nearing midnight when Judy drew him aside. “Get Jasmine, will you, and come outside.”
It’s a short story and it must come to an end. In other words enough with all the pleasantries, we got to know the characters, now what’s the deal? Why am I even reading this story? Any writer would cover their ears to keep from hearing their readers ask these hard questions, so I should spare you of that loss right now. Remember, your readers are characters, too. Be mindful of them just as your story characters are mindful of each other. In fact, it would be a disservice to yourself if you wrote a story without at least one reader in mind. Your story should consist of you, the narrator, the story characters and an imaginary reader or readers for good measure. If you have a strong enough imagination, let your story characters complain to you because they don’t like the script you’ve handed down to them or praise you when they’re satisfied.
“It’s freezing outside.”
She whisked the wassail cup away from him before he could drink. “Out,” she insisted. “Front of the house.” Before he could argue, she walked away to drag Max from the guitar.
Areas that are often written poorly are transitions. A good transition uses dialogue, actions and reactions or any combination of elements to bridge a scene to the next. If you’re narrating a short transition you should ask yourself why aren’t you letting your characters handle it?
“Easy for you,” Brenda complained when she followed Judy outside. “In your smart fur coat. It’s freaking freezing out here.”
“Is it smart?” Judy smiled smugly as she rubbed her cheek against her soft collar. “I hadn’t noticed. Oh, stop complaining for five icy minutes, all of you.” She tossed back her head and looked up. The sky was cloudless with the stars brilliant against that black sheen.
What’s more fun than hearing friends complain freely at each other? This interaction is contrasted by a relaxing moment as Judy tossed back her head and looked up. The sky was cloudless with the stars brilliant against that black sheen. Poetic expression accents a paragraph, making it colorful and graceful, but be sparing. We want a combination of elements, everything in moderation.
She could hear the clashing sea, feel her baby’s heartbeat, and the carols that played inside her childhood home, another heart.
Here is where we justify the title of the story, The Heart of Sycamore, which is Judy’s childhood home.
“I wanted the six of us first,” she began. “We’ve all been part of something special, and bigger than ourselves. That stays with us–like this place and these people stay with us–wherever we go, whatever we do. We have Sycamore, and the pub, and soon the restaurant.”
“If you’re going to give long speech, can’t we do it by the fire?” Max complained.
Notice that we’re not just contrasting moments for the sake of creating an effect, but the expression of personalities are consistent to each character. This ensures that the reader won’t suspect we’re just trying to make the reader laugh. It also adds to the continuity of the setting, in this case, it’s freezing outside. So we’re following up to the important elements we’ve introduced so that the story is built evenly and reasonably.
“Quiet, you dullard.” Judy huffed out a breath. “As I was saying, you’re all dearest to me,” she continued. “Even this monkey over here. So I wanted the six of us out here when I gave Jax his first present.”
When it comes to characters, a weak story is spotted when dialogues lack in attitude. We want to read about characters that seem real, even if they don’t remind us of anyone we’d met. This is the journey we take and we don’t expect to have wasted our time with cardboard characters.
She turned to him. “It was outside, down the beach over there where you finally mustered up the courage to ask for my hand in marriage. Our love joined our lives, once and always, and made my dreams come true. But since I don’t think this bunch will troop down there for this, we’ll settle for here, outside the house, where we can hear the music of the sea. Stop stomping your boots, Brenda, this is a heartfelt moment.”
Judy is already making a serious speech but that’s no excuse to avoid humor or simply relating to other characters. In …Stop stomping your boots, Brenda, this is a heartfelt moment… we have insight of yet another character. Without these quick distractions we won’t get a full feel of the dynamics of a situation. If we write the scene with just Judy’s words and one quick glance at characters then it reads lacking and lazy and boring.
“Then get on with it. I’m freezing my ass off.”
There’s nothing like a difference of personality to break a moment. Remember, that characters are excellent for creating transitions so that we don’t stray too far away from the spine and momentum of the story.
Ignoring her, Judy took Jax’s hand. “There are gifts for you inside, wrapped in white. I know you’ll like them, I know you. And there best be plenty of those boxes for me as well. With nice glittery items tucked neatly inside.”
“Wow,” he said with a smiling grin. “I wouldn’t offer it any other way.”
It’s no obligation to have story characters laugh at what you think is funny between story characters in an attempt to make the reader agree to laugh. It is a possibly the worse mistake in a story to use the narrator to dictate the reaction you expect the reader to have. If a situation is funny they’ll laugh on their own, if not, then it’s okay because you won’t feel disappointed after having strongly suggested it.
“I have one gift for you that is very unexpected. It’s wrapped, too and if I do say so myself in prettiest package of them all.” With her eyes on his she took his hand and led it to her belly.
This is an awww moment, the part that inspires a good ending, the part that makes reading everything worthwhile.
She heard Jasmine’s quiet sob an instant before she saw understanding come into Jax’s eyes and the joy that rushed over his whole face. Then she was caught in his arms, laughing as tears slid down her cheeks. “I think he likes it.”
Of course, what are good news if we don’t see story characters react to them?
“When?” He could barely get the single word out as emotion swamped him.
It’s not enough to have a dialogue line followed by a …he said and follow that with a description of how he said it. Just say it using only the words that truly matter.
“I’ll have your child at the end of next year’s summer. Let’s go in and tell the others.”
We already know that Judy is pregnant so there’s no need to take long to say it. Look over the surprises in your story to see if you’re dragging it far longer than it should be. In this case, we’ll make Alex’s reaction and their intimate moment more impactful.
“Give her over,” Max demanded and pulled her away for a hug. The tears and laughter continued as she let herself be passed from hug to hug and kiss to kiss. Then it was Alex’s arms around her.
“My girl,” he murmured. “Oh, someone give me a damn napkin or a sleeve.”
We don’t need an extended conversation here. Remember, it’s freezing outside! Again, what better way to transition than through the direction set by a story character as in the next paragraph.
“Look,” Jasmine said quietly and gestured to the sky as a comet drew across between the stars.
Now we can let the narrator take charge and relieve the reader’s mind of activity. The lows in a story should be the graceful narrative that soothes the readers mind, taking a quick break from the traffic of characters and events.
Over the rhythm of the sea came a choir of angels. They watched as the she turned her head, as he bent to her. When they kissed it was like a shower of fireworks–red, blue, green–rained down into the dark sea and made it sparkle.
As they hurried inside, one by one, Alex felt everything coming together beyond what he expected. “This gift is perfect.” He took Jasmine’s hand, brought it to his lips and kissed it tenderly. “Merry Christmas. To all of us.”
Overall, this story is clean and wholesome, inspiring and romantic and full of family drama. Read your story in progress for these elements, which are brought about by applying elements of genre; romance, mystery, suspense, crime, murder, fantasy, etc. but all of these elements are combined to give a feel to your overall story, so everything in moderation. Adding just enough of each to produce the look and feel you want your story to have.
***End of Tutorial***
This is an example of what you’ll find in Write Your Best Seller! and much more.
Write Your Best Seller! A Story Writing Guide
By F Michael Rodriguez
List Price: $29.99
6” × 9” (15.24 × 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
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