Serene. Peaceful. Relaxed.
Who wouldn’t want a life marked by these adjectives?
And yet . . .
When we’re writing fiction, these same adjectives just may put our readers to sleep.
This week let’s apply a few tips for keeping readers engaged and flipping those pages.
- First, write a short short (a complete story) or a fictional scene of 500-1000 words. Fill it with kind and loving characters relating to one another with empathy and compassion. And, of course, drop them in the middle of an idyllic setting.
- Rewrite the same story and introduce a crotchety—or even dangerous—antagonist. (Feel free to convert one of the characters you already included.) Watch how the interactions, even between the other characters, take on a new dimension.
- Rewrite Version #2. This time either transport your characters to a far less idyllic setting or introduce a natural or manmade disaster that will threaten the setting and the characters (i.e. the protagonist’s dream home burns down or a severe thunderstorm leaves the characters—or some of the characters—stranded).
- Focus on one of the characters—perhaps the protagonist—and “roughen up the edges.” Give the character an annoying habit or a trigger that sets him or her off . . . or some other facet that makes him or her more believable, more human.
- Now revisit your antagonist’s personality. Is there something you can introduce to make him or her a more sympathetic character? Don’t tone down the threat; just allow readers to understand the character a little more.
- Even in a very short story, there should be some form of character arc, a hero’s journey as it were. Does the protagonist change in any way? Does he or she have to make a significant decision that will change the path he or she is following? If you are writing a scene rather than a complete story, are you setting up an arc for your character? Rewrite your piece again with this in mind.
If you’ve gone through these steps, your story will be much different than it was at first. You will begin to understand what it’s like for fiction writers to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. The first draft of any novel is usually far different from the book that hits the shelves. It requires patience, willingness to learn, and more hours than many of us realize. But in the end it makes our stories more engaging, more exciting, more gripping. Now, what writer wouldn’t want that?
by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist