I published my first book in 2014. Suddenly, to my friends and family and small circle of “fans”, I’m an expert on the art of writing.
Someone asked me recently, “What is your best advice for aspiring writers”. When I stopped laughing–not because I was trying to be insulting to the lady asking the question, but because I’m so very new at this and don’t feel I am in any position to be giving advice–I sat back and thought about it and decided, “maybe I do have something to contribute.”
This is what I told her: I’m new at writing, but I’ve been reading since I was 5. I know what I like. I know what moves my heart and twists my guts. I know what makes me laugh and smile and I know what makes me like a story. So, for what it’s worth, here are my tips for writers.
The Five Senses
Unless your characters are aliens from another planet who can’t see, hear, feel, smell or taste… you should be writing with the five senses.
“Janet placed her fingers against the glass of the window. It was cold, so cold she snatched her hand away, as if she’d been burned.”
“The smell of cigarette smoke floated around the room like a ghost. It crawled up Janet’s nose and made her gag.”
Don’t forget to be human.
Plausibility vs Irrationality
Our characters can be weird, crazy, nutzoid, creepy or religious, spiritual, zen-like monk-ish…but they have to have a reason for everything they do.
Serial killers are rarely born to kill. If your antagonist is a killer—be prepared to explain why. What IS his motivation. What happened in his or her life to make him obsessed with death and causing it? Who hurt him? Who hurt his loved one and why? What happened to make him/her who he is?
In that same way, peaceable, non-violent pacifists need plausible reasons for doing what they do. Motivation for kindness is just as important to the peacemaker as killing is for the villain. What happened to make them that way? What were like before? Who do they control their emotions for, and why?
If you knew for sure that your written work would never offend anyone for any reason; everyone who reads it will love it, without exception…what would you write?
In this world—where political correctness is king—we writers tend to cage our creativity to avoid insulting anyone with anything. We don’t want to write anything dark, scary or cruel. We don’t write about controversy like hate, fear or pain. We don’t want to write about ugliness or stupidity. We don’t want to offend. While on the surface this is commendable, it’s a betrayal of both our creativity and our reader.
Be brave! Write the story that’s in you. Write raw and write fully.
If you’re smart…prove it!
Don’t dumb down your work because you’re frightened the reader won’t be smart enough to understand it. If you’re Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking write like it! If your reader is interested in your book, they’ll buy it. If they don’t understand it, they’ll learn. Or…they won’t. It’s up to them to make the decision—not you. Write what YOU know. Don’t underestimate the public. They’re smarter than you think and more willing to grow than you might imagine. Give them the chance.
Use your best stuff—but only if it has a purpose.
In my own library of “story ideas & cool things”, I have a memory of meeting Tanya Tucker. For the 12-year-old me, meeting the 15-year-old Tucker was amazing! She was famous, beautiful, interesting and fun! She was living every little girl’s dream of being a famous singer and she was young, like me. For years I’ve wanted to tell that story in a book. So far, I haven’t found a vehicle. For one thing…Let’s face it, Tanya Tucker is no longer relevant. Many, if not most, of those reading this page will probably wonder, “Who is Tanya Tucker”. To include her story now would do me no good if my readers can’t relate to the amazement I felt meeting the country singing sensation in 1974. For another thing, my Tanya Tucker story would not fit (probably) in a sci-fi adventure set on Mars. Nor would it work in a Christian devotional, murder mystery or romance.
Use your best stuff…but only if it has a purpose.
Send in the clowns…and the mortician
When writing, remember to punch your reader in the heart (or the funny bone) as often as you can. Make them laugh and make them cry. When a reader can relate to a story on an emotionally visceral level, the story becomes personal and more worthy of their attention and time.
These are my tips, ideas…notions…for getting and keeping a reader’s attention.
What are your thoughts?