Mirriam Neal, has set down in bold black and white “How to Write a Page Turner”, and she’s 100% right in everything she said.
But the imp at the back of my head started grumbling as soon as I finished reading and enjoying her post: Yeah, great, might as well add in there “Consume moon cheese, skate to Pluto (SO A PLANET), and drink the belly juice of a salamander plucked from the heart of a pulsar.”
Why? Because what she has listed are all true, and also HARD TO IMPOSSIBLE things to do. Go read. You’ll see.
It’s just that kind of recipe that makes me want to turn back in despair from my writing , take a hatchet to my hard drive, and give up.
However, as I was throttling the imp, I thought I’ll break down the pieces into smaller pieces, and smaller and smaller pieces.
Then I thought, Maybe I’m not the only one that sees a broad list like that and chokes. So, I’m sharing my break down of her list, and my own thoughts on how to do as she says here with you. You’re welcome. (You can thank people like Mirriam Neal and Megan Marie Grace Johnson, who said things like “You should keep a blog, it’ll be fun, you’ll have a place to put your thoughts” for this post. Go on. I’ll wait. Back? Wow, where’d you get the gilded gryphons? Nevermind, onward to battling the mind-imp!)
1.) Start off with the ACTION
While this SOUNDS easy, it’s actually rather hard. There was a fashion in the mid-1900’s where the hero of the tale would have a woman fall dead over his door way, guns would blaze through the brick over his head, or there would be a BOOM and all the chaos after the BOOM would then unfold. Reader’s tastes have changed (and writers are competing with television, movies, and the internet for a reader’s time an attention) and they want to be invested in the characters at the beginning instead of three chapters into the tale.
So what to do?
Start the story right before the main character experiences a crisis. Bryan Davis, author of Dragons in our Midst shared this fantastic tip with me and several others when we were having a writer’s conference at work. It’s helped me so much, and really it makes the most sense when you’re trying to juggle between action and character development. This is a delicate balance between running along with the plot too quickly, and giving so much character history it slows down the story. If you don’t have it perfect, don’t worry, I don’t either. The point is keep on tweaking that beginning. It really is important, first impressions and all that. Outlining is important to me, for pacing reasons. You can learn fathoms from reading well-paced books. One of my favorites is The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn. I’ve outlined and diagrammed and picked the plot of that book apart once a year for the last five years. Every time I read it, I learn something new. Ever time I outline it, I marvel at the mastery.
Remember when you are starting off with action; the keep the beginning pace swift, bring the character in RIGHT before their crisis not at it or after it, and outline both your own story and books that you enjoyed (you’ll learn tons this way and it’s free).
2.) Have strong main characters
Now, most of the scribes I know, are world builders. Their protagonists and antagonists are so exquisitely built that there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind about how the character looks, or acts, in any given scene. These scribes could tell you chapter and verse about their back story (which might be a novel of great renown itself) and make you want to meet the character in person.
I cried my eyes out for days after I met my first world building, convinced I was a writing hack. Then I met a plot-first writer, and my poor little shattered heart whisked back together in crazy fashion. This explains so much, I know, about me. The point is there are two ways to build paper tigers. World builders tend to get all the information about their character all at once, and plot-first writers build as we go.
Both of us create composites of people either real or read, and viola, a character is born. So pull from those around you (and your self too) and layer the positive and negative traits on your paper tiger. Write down all that you know about your characters—as soon as you know it—and don’t worry if you don’t know everything all at once.
A fantastic way to write good strong main characters is to balance every strength with one or more weaknesses.
You should also be reading your own genre. Read as a writer, not as a reader. Try saying that three times fast. Go on, I’ll wait.
Good now, back to the practical stuff.
Mine your favorite books for characters and make notes on characters you like, and ones you don’t. Do the same thing with movies and television shows. Also, INVEST in some books on character writing, like the one I’ve been talking about the last few posts. Then, craft character YOU want to read about.
Stay tuned this week for Parts Green, Purple, and Orange on this subject. I got tired of doing numbers and letters as I seem to be breaking up these posts. Encourage one another, Scribes!