It’s a great honor to be on Seekerville today! I’m very excited to chat with all of you about one of my favorite subjects—fiction! We all want to know what makes powerful fiction, right? Well, here are some things I’ve noticed:
1. Relatable Characters
I recently did a YouTube video with Chris Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey and Hollywood film consultant. We often hear that our characters need to be likeable, but Chris says they only need to be relatable. We should be able to see ourselves (or the human condition) in every character that we write. Although we may not agree with a character’s choices, we at least need to understand what brought them to that decision.
2. Real Emotions
How many emotions do you experience in a week? A month? If someone told your story, what emotions would they put on the page? Think about your lowest moment and your best experience. I know it’s scary, but if you want your stories to have power, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to translate your emotions and experiences into ink and paper.
Maya Angelou said,
"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
This is true for life and fiction. Emotion is what will carry your story to the end and leave your readers with a lasting impression. If you can make someone laugh, cry, or ache, you have done your job as a novelist. You have made them feel.
Suspense author Brandilyn Collins says,
“You should never apologize for human emotion.”
I think as writers sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we feel as deeply as we do. We’re tempted to write half-truths in the fear of being judged. But you have to decide what kind of writer you’re going to be. If you truly want to write fiction that is unforgettable, you have to be willing to go deep.
3. Vivid Settings
Readers come to fiction for a couple of reasons. Sometimes they want to be entertained. Sometimes they want to escape. They always want to learn. Therefore, make your settings all of these things—an entertaining escape where the reader will come away knowing something they didn’t know before. Make your settings so real that your reader can smell the air and feel the heat from a fire. Find ways to make the ordinary extraordinary. Treat your setting as another character. This is vital. Every city has a certain mood. Get that onto your pages.
One of the best parts about being a fiction writer is that we get to experience many lives and many places. When I’m writing, I listen to the music from the area I’m writing about. If possible, I eat the food. Immerse yourself in every aspect of your world as much as you can. This will make a difference in your fiction.
4. Unexpected Plot
I’m not sure where I heard this quote, but I think there’s something to it:
“Dismiss the first thing that comes to mind and write the buried truth.”
Usually when I’m stuck on a plot point, I make a list. On this list I do stream of consciousness writing. That means I write down all my ideas, no matter how ridiculous. The list might look something like this:
Says he’s sorry
Questions his vocation
Questions his father
Flies to the moon
Becomes a pirate
Shaves a dog
Is secretly working for the queen
Is secretly working for the French
Finds a key
Finds a lock
Finds a knife
Finds Winston Churchill
Sometimes my list takes up an entire page. Usually, by the time I get to the bottom, I have an idea that I can work with.
Powerful fiction often has a plot that the reader didn’t see coming. Learn the art of misdirection. Subtly give the reader hints that will logically lead their thoughts where you want them to go. Then, do the opposite thing.
5. The Five Senses
If your scene lacks tension, look at the five senses. Have you used them all? Make the reader feel what your character feels. Use strong, descriptive words. Don’t just have a pillow in your scene, have a blue velvet pillow. Is your character drinking something? Make us taste it. Give us the heat of the tea in our mouths. And, as your character swallows, allow us to taste the floral undertones. Take time with scents and textures. Let the reader live vicariously.
I teach a writing workshop and I talk about the power of suggestion. Another way to bring in sense of sight is to use color. Did you know that every color has an emotional association? Google “color association” and then look at the images that come up.
What emotion do you want your reader to feel in your scene? Insert the associative color and see if it works. Have your character walk into a room and make the walls a certain color that corresponds with an emotion you want to bring out. You can use this like foreshadowing. Or, maybe there’s an object of note in the room. Play around with color and see what happens.
6. Tension On Every Page
The most powerful fiction always has supreme tension. Years ago, I read a Writer’s Digest article entitled The Trouble With Tea. The idea was that you should skip all the mentions of food or drinks that don’t have tension within them. Don’t have your characters drinking tea just because. There has to be something deeper going on in the story—tense dialogue perhaps.
7. Torture The Reader Until The End
Stephen King says,
“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.”
This is certainly true. Learn to sprinkle your secrets strategically throughout your book. First, hook the reader. Then, draw them in. Portray real, raw, deep emotion. Continue to raise the stakes. Heighten every scene—it can always be bigger! When the end finally does come, your reader will be sorry to close the book. The characters will feel real to them. And that’s what you want.
Next time you’re told that your fiction lacks power, try some of the above suggestions. I’d love to know what works for you!
Some questions to ponder:
*What books have you read that have included all of the above points?
*Which of these points do you have the most trouble executing?
*Did I leave something out? Is there something else you’ve noticed that makes fiction powerful?
*Have you ever read a character that you didn’t agree with but who you could relate with?
*Does writing deep emotion scare you?
*When you’re reading, what makes you skim the pages?
Brandy Vallance fell in love with the Victorian time period at a young age, loving the customs, manners, and especially the intricate rules of love. Since time travel is theoretically impossible, she lives in the nineteenth century vicariously through her novels. Unaccountable amounts of black tea have fueled this ambition. Brandy's love of tea can only be paralleled by her love of Masterpiece Theater Classics, deep conversations, and a good book. Brandy is the 2013 Operation First Novel winner and the 2012 winner of the ACFW Genesis Contest for historical romance. You can connect with Brandy via her website www.brandyvallance.com, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube, or Twitter @BrandyVallance.
The Covered Deep
Some Dreams Are Worth Searching For
Still set on experiencing love, or at least a little adventure, Bianca wins an essay contest that propels her into a whirlwind search for the perfect romantic hero. Via the opulence of London and the mysteries of Palestine, Bianca's true love will be revealed--but not without a price that might be too heavy to pay.
Today, Brandy is giving away two copies of The Covered Deep to our Seekerville commenters. Leave a comment letting us know you want your name put in the silk purse for the giveaway. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.