‘Smile an everlasting smile, a smile can bring you near to me’
I’ve taken on a new project for Year of the Novel. It’s a young adult story about a girl named Meredith, who is fighting bone cancer. The more I write this young girl’s story, the closer I am getting to her. I am beginning to read her moods and slowly she is revealing her personality to me. Whilst I can see her clearly in my head, there are no guarantees that my words are going to deliver the same picture of her to my readers. When I did Year of the Edit with Kim Wilkins, I remember one of the valuable lessons I learned was to be specific when writing. Instead of writing about a car, write about a midnight blue Maserati. Instead of writing about a bird, write about a tawny frogmouth. The use of specific words adds another layer to the writing. Clear visuals help build the world for the reader and make the experience of story more satisfying.
I was writing a scene the other day and my character was going about her business as usual and I realised I hadn’t clearly shown what she was feeling as she was trundling along. Mid scene, I planted a half smile on her face. Showing that specific emotion changed the feel of the scene completely. Be it a scowl or a smile or a flicker of doubt, including these things helps the reader connect to the character by bringing the inner workings of the character to the surface.
‘Don’t ever let me find you gone, cause that would bring a tear to me’
One of my main goals as a writer is making my reader fall for my characters. I want the reader to care about my characters. Establishing that empathy fuels the reader to keep on reading. Years ago I read a book by Anne Marie MacDonald, titled Fall On Your Knees. In that story, I met Lily, a saintly crippled girl who stole my heart. The book weighs in at 512 pages. I loved this story but it was Lily that pulled me through every page. I didn’t want the book to end, simply because of her. If I don’t feel for a character, then it’s just words on a page to me. I lose interest. In my last project, I wrote about a twelve-year-old boy. Each critique that came back said the same thing. They couldn’t get a feel for the character. And I know why. I couldn’t get a feel for this character either. I loved the world he was in but I didn’t love him. I didn’t care enough about him so how could I expect a reader to care? I had to let him go, and hate to admit it but finding him gone hasn’t brought a tear to me at all. I am hoping that in this book, because I feel so much for Meredith, I will be able to pour this empathy onto the page for the reader to experience and that people will want to embrace her.
‘This world has lost its glory, let’s start a brand new story now, my love’
Keeping the reader interested in my story is another challenge. I dread a sagging middle and fear writing a story that loses its magic through inconsistency. When I read, I trust the author to take me on a journey. I invest my time with them and expect there to be no deal breakers on their behalf. When your reader falls out of the story, sometimes it’s impossible to get them back. It is so easy for them to start a brand new story. I am guilty of doing this in the past. Of picking up a book that is full of promise and then being disappointed. It’s not necessarily because it’s a poorly written book. Often it’s just about personal preference. The few stories that do lose me are good teachers though. I look for the reason why the story lost me and store it away for future reference. My goal is to keep my reader turning the pages, no bookmark in sight.
‘Right now, there’ll be no other time, and I can show you how, my love’
One of the exercises we did for Year of the Novel was examining first lines of other novels. Hooking the reader within the first few pages is essential. Hooking them in less is ideal. There are so many good books out there. When I pick up a new book, if the first page doesn’t grab me, I will usually put it back down. This makes me realise that there is no better time to grab the reader than in those first few moments when the reader and my story come together. I have to be able to promise them a fabulous journey. And then I must deliver.
‘Talk in everlasting words and dedicate them all to me,
and I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me’
Once I have my reader on board, my goal is to make them feel so connected that they might think the book was written for them. I want them to hand themselves over to the story and immerse themselves. One of my most favourite experiences was reading Sonya Hartnett’s Ghost Child. I recall that experience often because it was so positive for me. I was lost in that book. Forgot I was reading. Didn’t want to come home and could have stayed in that world forever. I love books that call to me as that one did. And I love it when I put a book down but can’t leave it alone. It calls me back to the pages to keep reading.
‘You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say’
Ever had those sad reading experiences where the characters aren’t believable, the world is full of inconsistency and nothing really flows or works together? As I write Meredith’s story, I am mindful of making her world believable and doing whatever it takes to makes sure that is the case. As a reader, when I lose faith in a story, I lose faith in the author. For me, it damages credibility and it can take a while to build up that trust again. It’s important to me that my readers believe in what I am saying. It is equally important to me that I never cheat them in any way.
‘It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away’
Writers only have words. That’s it. They are the tools we use to take our readers hearts away.
Our choice of words and the way we craft them can change lives.
Realising this makes me stop and look closely. It makes me choose wisely.
Deleting the rubbish is easier when I do this.
Saving the good words and weaving them into a beautiful tale is magical.
Words are all we have – thank you to the Bee Gees for pointing this out.