What is it about a great story that keeps you turning the pages? Think of the last book you devoured in one sitting. What kept you so engrossed you had to stay up until 4am to finish it? For those of us who sit bleary-eyed in front of a computer because we couldn't put a good book down last night, we stumbled across an author who knows how to raise the stakes. And the higher the stakes, the better—am I right?
When I began working for Charlie, I knew he was talented. He's the writing partner of a well-known leadership expert and together they've authored over 100 books. Several have become New York Times best sellers. I embraced the job with a learner's mindset. I determined every day to improve my writing skills. My first professionally edited draft looked like a murder scene. Red letters covered the page with countless words crossed out, rearranged, and rewritten.
Your antagonist can make the difference between a ho-hum novel and a break-out one. A fully realized villain is someone who shows us parts of ourselves in his or her makeup. If you can connect in some human way with the antagonist, it's going to bring up all kinds of tension for readers.
I recently came across a book by James Scott Bell that lays out an interesting premise about something he calls the 'mirror moment'. Bell's theory is that there is a single moment in the middle of the story where the main character takes a "long, hard look at himself (as in a mirror). He asks, Who am I? What have I become? Who am I supposed to be?" Bell says if you can nail that moment, everything that comes before and after it will have more depth and resonance.
Margaret Atwood recently wrote an essay titled ["Margaret Atwood on What *The Handmaid's Tale* Means in the Age of Trump"](https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/books/review/margaret-atwood-handmaids-tale-age-of-trump.html?_r=0) that caught my eye. There has been a swarm of interest around the book thanks to the upcoming series on Hulu, but I have to admit that I was curious to see if her political views matched mine. What I found most compelling in the article, however, is how she talked about stretching herself outside her genre when she wrote *The Handmaid's Tale*: - ***"It seemed to me a risky venture. I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real."***
When you’re starting a new story, determining POV is a very important choice. Writing from multiple POVs can be frustrating and confusing for readers if it’s not handled well, so you need to have a very good reason for using multiple POVs in your story. That said, here are a few tips on how to craft a story using multiple POVs:
Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that if the ending isn't strong and doesn't resolve all the plot threads, you're disappointed in the whole book? I once read a novel with a deeply engaging main character I really connected with. She struggled and overcame and struggled and overcame. And at the very end of the book, the author killed her. WHAT? It's the only time I've ever thrown a book. And I refused to read anything more by that author. You know how important it is to hook your reader from the very beginning. It's why you start in the middle of the action, plunging your reader right in so they get caught up in the excitement. Your ending is as important…if not more.
Theme is not your character arc, nor is it the plot or what happens to your character. It's actually the essence that ties those two together. If someone asks you "what is your book about?" you don't respond with scene-by-scene detail, or the changes your character goes through. You think of your character and what essential thing she or he comes to understand through the course of the book. If you can't do that, you don't have a firm grasp on your story's theme.
If you’ve taken writing courses at the university level, more often than not, your instructors have fervently cried: Never, ever, ever, ever start a story with a dream sequence. And if you Google “dreams in novels,” you will find a huge range of opinions on the matter. For every post scorning the use of dreams, there is one saying that *when done well*, dream sequences can move your plot forward. But are there times when dreams are ok to use? Some authors have used them incredibly effectively in the past. .
Here are the posts from our blog that most resonated with our readers this year. Did your favorite make the list?
If you haven’t read *The Martian*, it’s 369 pages of full-on tension. Mark Watney, the main character, faces one set-back after another as he’s fighting for his life on Mars. The stakes are pretty high; if he doesn’t get off Mars soon, he’ll die. Weir is a master at creating tension. Just when things are finally going right for Watney, Weir pulls the rug out from under his feet. We watch as Watney perseveres through untenable disasters that would crush the rest of us. Weir keeps readers asking throughout the story, “How’s he going to get out of this one?”
A flashback is a scene you use in your current narrative to show something that happened in the past. The two key differentiators are: 1) it must be a scene (as opposed to narration about an event), and 2) it’s past news. Flashbacks are great for building three-dimensional characters because readers gains insight on how a character’s thoughts, feelings, and morals were formed by important events. They’re also useful for dropping hints about what happened to lead your main character to the current point in time. They help your readers understand and care deeply about your characters and what happens to them.
As a writer, you may dream of a day where you can sit down at your desk and simply write, with no distractions. Instead, you have to deal with phone calls and emails, and people coming over to talk to you. You have the whole of the internet at your fingertips to distract you, as well as the sounds of the outside world. You can even be distracted by your own thoughts. But what if we are thinking of these distractions in the wrong way? Could they be something that actually improves your productivity? Let’s take a look at the ways in which this could be true.
Very occasionally some exceptional writers can get away with shifting Point of View (POV) between two characters within the same sentence. Most of us, however, should avoid this kind of head-hopping. Where Faulkner and Joyce are masters at POV shifting (and they make it seem so effortless), here are a few rules the rest of us should follow when shifting between characters.