There's something satisfying about making lists, so I'm at it again. First, I listed rules for writing. Now, I'm listing secrets to writing success. Who knows? If we put these thing together, we might have something worth talking about!
Secrets. Who doesn't love them? As a suspense writer I'm intrigued by the word, by the mystery and unknown that it invokes. Secrets are the building blocks on which relationships can be made or broken, the backbone of wonderful myths (think Nessie and Sasquatch), compelling oral tradition, and the perfect beginning to many great novels. Secrets make life interesting, but when it comes to writing there are none. So, why title this post secret to writing success #1? Because, it seems so much more exciting than common sense writing advice or traits of successful writers or any number of variations on that theme.
So, on to the secrets.
As I've spoken with other published authors, I've found that there are certain traits we all possess. The first is imagination. Seems simple doesn't it? It's not. Imgination is a powerful thing and can lead us on a merry chase if we let it. We want to write something unique, something that hasn't been done before. In our quest to do so, we often cross the line from compelling to unbelievable. Unbelievable can be the death of a well-written manuscript.
I know what you're thinking - Monsters, Frank Peretti's newest book, or one of any of thousands of examples of stories that are so farfetched a reader could never imagine them to be reality. Stephen King is a perfect example. His stories are unbelievable. Yet when we read them, we believe. We don't stand outside the action shaking our heads and rolling our eyes, because King's characters demand that we believe. Their fears, their struggles, their pain is real and compelling. While one might argue the merit of reading such fiction, one can't deny that King paints vivid and real pictures of both the depth and heights of human emotion.
And therein lies the secret. Imagination must be tempered with reality, it must be balanced with a voice that speaks to the human condition, that vividly reflects the struggles and triumphs of the characters. Stories are believable when characters are believable, and in that respect we must box our imagination and strive for truth. To this end, character sketches are invaluable. In each scene and chapter successful authors paint an ever more compelling picture of their protagonists, leading the reader step by step to a satisfying conclusion. For this reason, imagination balanced with a vivid understanding of people is the first step to being a successful author.
So, are your characters real? Do their actions ring true as you move them from one scene to another? Will your reader believe their actions and reactions, or step back, shake her head, and be pulled out of your story?
Just something to think about on this rather gloomy Maryland day.