Today’s topic is important to me because I know I have a weak link (or two) in my creative writing. Although the topic suggests ‘quick identification’ of the weakest link, in doing my research I discovered that this weak link is actually the result of multi-layers in the creative writing process. I’m going to briefly discuss each one and reveal the number one weakest writing link. If you read through each main topic I think you’ll find you can put more meat on the bones of your story.
Let’s get started.
If any of you were able to wade through the 2nd video in last weeks post, you may have heard Judith Murray from Literary Agency Greene & Heaton say something at the end of her interview. Something that really captured my attention (mainly because both she and fellow lit agent, Antony Topping, referenced this)…they said the story they would publish would have to make them want to turn the page and keep reading it.
As an avid reader, I’ve been there…it’s close to midnight and I know I have to get up for work early in the morning but I just – can’t – put – the – book – down!!!
I’m going to reference two of my most recent reads: This House is Haunted by John Boyne and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
With both, I started off as an innocent bystander and the next thing I knew I was caught up in the drama…the what-if’s…the ‘whose hiding behind door number two??’
So how exactly does an author capture that kind of tension and conflict? How does an author capture the reader?
Let’s find out how.
THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED
As a horror fan, the moment I read the back flap I knew I had to buy the book. The book back flap, as we all know, is essentially the query letter; I was hooked right away. The novel didn’t fail me. The tension came mostly in the form of a woman alone with two children – – only she didn’t know she was alone with the two children until well into the read.
This is classic horror. Women alone…women alone with children. Two vulnerable and “helpless” classes that (at least in the horror genre) are rarely exemplified as heroines or saviors. Almost immediately I, as the reader, had a delicious sense of vulnerability and terrifying solitude and the chilling realization that I was unprotected. I didn’t know who I could trust, and there was something very odd going on at the house I was visiting.
Creating Tension and Drama: THE PUBLISHED
Creating tension is rarely negotiable across genres. The author must create a sense of vulnerability that the reader can identify with: alone in a house, in the dark, in a thought process, in a relationship, in an angry crowd, etc.
Creating Tension and Drama: YOU
Right up front, make your protagonist likable – relatable. Most people like animals, so a dedicated pet owner will suffice. Then (regardless of genre), put your protag in a vulnerable situation.
Need inspiration for writing a likeable and relatable character? I found a decent blog post touching on this very topic:
20 tips for creating relatable – and lovable – protagonists
With any character emotion, try incorporating non-fiction advice.
In her Tip #9 Be Likeable and Relatable, author Lordes Welhaven of Networker For Business Woman writes,
“Likeable people are relatable. They don’t pretend to know it all or be “bigger” than they are. They take other’s opinions in stride choosing not to believe that they are less than or better than anyone else. We all have our insecurities, it all starts with accepting yourself. Once you accept what you like as well as what you don’t like about yourself, you’ll find that others will like you more. In fact, they might even appreciate the fact that you are so human, just like them.”
On this same topic she continues by stating,
“Likeable people don’t gossip ever, not even behind closed doors to their most faithful confidants. I’m sure you’ve had someone tell you some rumor they heard that they were so eager to share with you. Didn’t it cross your mind, if only for a fleeting second, that if they are gossiping about someone else today that they’ll be gossiping about you tomorrow?”
This is terrific advice to both professionals and creative writers constructing a likable character. These are real, human characteristics and the more believable your character is, the better.
Once you’ve established a likable protagonist and placed them in a vulnerable and potentially dangerous situation, the reader will want to know to know more about him or her. Do they have any defensive skills, like Karate or Jujutsu? Are they afraid of the dark? Is there a quick back story to supplement their current fear; did something happened to them as a child that places them in particular stress in your given situation? What you’re trying to draw out is HOW CAN THE READER PROTECT THEM?
CREATING LIKEABLE CHARACTERS
Readers, by and large, like the following:
- A character who has overcome something (a bad childhood, a bad relationship, a bad work experience, a bad social experience, etc.)
- A character who feels emotions (they are sad when their cat dies, happy when they get a work bonus, elated when they find their perfect partner, etc.)
- A character with financial problems. This one is interesting to me personally , as I’ve always rooted for the protag or even secondary character who seems to struggle monetarily. I guess the super-rich-bastard-type is too far aloof for most of us to relate to and root for.
- A character with dental issues, hygiene issues or any significant social issue that might make him or her completely “unacceptable” to the crowd. A lot of people can relate to this social unacceptability, and it makes for a good connection with readers when your protagonist or primary secondary character is vulnerable to crowd (and social) judgment.
While I personally figured out the premise to Gone Girl by the third chapter, this was still one of my favorite reads. Why?
Creating Tension and Drama: THE PUBLISHED
It was so evident from early on that Amy Dunne was not stable that it left the READER in an ongoing vulnerable state….what exactly would this character do next? She was without controls and therefore UNPREDICTABLE!
Creating Tension and Drama: YOU
Your character does not have to fit a niche. You can make him or her as predictable (or unpredictable) as your imagination will allow! NOTE: Once you establish your characters ‘MO’ [Modus Operandi] you’ll have to stick to it. A “jumpy” character only irritates readers.
CREATING SOCIAL PARIAH’S
For me this title brings to mind a recent documentary I watched regarding Aileen Wuornos. For those even remotely familiar with that case file, I think you might understand this: On some human level I felt just the tiniest bit bad for Aileen.
And no – I don’t want to turn this blog post into a quasi You Tube forum of hate literary against Aileen (or even against me for saying she is a sympathetic soul), but I do want to point out that while her actions were despicably heinous, she still maintained this ‘female wronged’ persona. With her clear mental health issues and rather blunt and somewhat sad personality, I think Aileen Wournos is a story that resonated with many women.
When creating a strong social pariah, your character must fit into some socially acceptable ‘wronged’ category. I Know What You Did Last Summer, an extremely popular film based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Lois Duncan; a perfect example of the social pariah.
I Know What You Did Last Summer centers on four friends who are being stalked by a killer, one year after covering up a car accident in which they were involved. The social pariah’s in this case are the four teens who have killed somebody and covered it up – a socially unacceptable injustice. They must pay for their deeds.
The audience is siding, to some degree, with the vicious killer of the teens. He, after all, is setting right what the group did to that poor man when they dumped his body.
The lone avenger for justice and victims rights is a very popular social pariah, and there are many, many books from which to draw inspiration.
CREATIVE WRITING – YOUR WEAKEST LINK
I wanted to focus on tension, conflict, character creation, and social pariah’s before I got into the meat of the blog for several reasons.
If you do an intensive search on why agents reject manuscript submissions, it is usually because one of the four following reasons:
- There wasn’t enough tension and conflict (i.e. NOT a page turner!)
- The characters weren’t fleshed out enough
- The agent didn’t feel any connection to the characters
- The agent never found themselves rooting for the characters
Your weakest link is probably your focus on creative writing and lack of attention to real human emotion. An inability to elicit emotion in your readers.
I came across a fantastic blog post that touches on this very topic: Creating Emotion In The Reader
Yes, maybe in chapter two you’ve shown the reader how angry your protag was at her husband. But did you allow your reader to feel that anger? To become angry on the part of your wife…a good piece of fiction will elicit real-life emotions in your readers. Emotions that will stick with them until they’ve completed the novel.
Speaking of our angry wife, did you bother to tell the reader how that anger affected the couples child(ren), the day care teacher, the friendly neighbor, the Starbucks barista, the mother-in-law?
Real Human Emotion rarely ever affects just one person. There is usually a ripple affect (co-workers, siblings, parents, friends, even strangers). Make sure your writing captures ALL of your characters human emotions, especially the more inter-twined your characters might be.
In addition to Real Human Emotions, your characters should be as living and breathing as you and I are right now.
Two take-aways from This House Is Haunted and Gone Girl: I always wondered how the characters were doing! Getting ready for work I’d think:
Is Eliza going to figure out what Isabella and Eustace are up to? When are the police going to figure out Amy Dunne is brilliantly psychotic?
These were people I’d never met – strangers – fictional characters! And yet I wanted to know more about their lives and couldn’t wait to pick up the book again!
People will care and start becoming invested in your characters when you make them care.
- Knowing your readership is extremely relevant at this point of the publication process
- Identifying your target market is essential (even before you start writing)
- Develop an Authors Brand early in your writing career…this will help establish you as a good resource of factual information…creative writers and authors are, by and large, a very logical group. Don’t disrespect their intelligence by feeding them completely illogical information.
In addition to factual, logical information, there is one other tool in your weakest link arsenal:
THE SELFIE CHEAT SHEET
Read one chapter of a recent story you’ve written or are working on. On a separate piece of paper, identify the following from the READERS perspective:
What all does the reader SEE.
A house. A yard. A forest. The beach. A barn. A pair of faded jeans.
Jot down all of the visuals you’ve included for your reader to look at.
What is the reader SMELLING?
A fire pit. Perfume. Mint lip gloss. Oranges. Impending rain.
Smells can bring on a flood of memories and have even been known to influence mood! HINT: Having your character enjoy an unusual or normally unpleasant odor can create a standout
Fear . Anger. Happiness. Joy. Terror. Indifference.
Your characters must always be feeling something in order for them to be alive – in order for the reader to buy into them as real people
Do you have secondary characters in the chapter you are reading? How are they affected by the protag’s actions and emotions? Jot down the relationship between the protagonist and all secondary characters. How does the protagonist influence your secondary characters? Always remember – your protagonist is the stone thrown into your literary writing…the secondary characters are the ripple effect.
I again want to thank Lourdes Welhaven at Networker For Business Woman for permission to use pieces from her awesome blog. Muchas Gracias m’lady!
Next Tuesday’s Blog Topic: Have You Created An Impressive Author’s Platform?
This includes a high-level, steady following on social media, a well read blog, or perhaps an engineered platform such as several top selling eBooks. We’ll discuss how you can start building your author platform right away!
Don’t forget to enter your Halloween Flash Fiction! $50 1st place. GUIDELINES
Connie Irons is a novelist recently begat blogger. As a double Gemini it’s hard to tie her down to one genre, but her favorites are well written horror and snarky memoirs (hail David Sedaris). When she’s not writing she’s mindlessly spoiling her beagle/basset puppy, Tucker, and evading payment on multiple loans from her fiancé.
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