by Lana Krumwiede
This is where we share some of the writing insights that came up in our most recent meeting. In our meetings, everyone shares about ten pages of their current projects. We read the manuscripts ahead of time. At the meeting, we share what we think is working well with the writing and what could be stronger. Here’s a sampling from this month’s meeting:
Take it over the top! If you’re writing funny, or scary, or wacky, don’t pull any punches. As readers, we want to go all out on this wild ride with the characters, so don’t stop short. As you revise, ask yourself how the story could be funnier, wackier, scarier, more dramatic, or whatever the emotion is that you’re going for.
Get to the heart of the story as soon as possible. We know you have to do a little setting up at the beginning, but as quickly as possible, give us an idea of what this story is all about. Readers first need an pretty clear idea of where the story is headed, then you can start trotting out the plot twists!
Give us a clear picture of who is doing what. Several members used different terms for this: choreography, blocking, physicality. The idea is that the reader needs to be able to picture the people and objects in the scene, where they are, what they’re doing, and what’s going on. This is a real challenge when you are writing a scene involving many people and lots of simultaneous, fast-paced action, but those scenes especially need clarity. Choose carefully the details you include and where to include them.
Some scenes need more set-up than others. If a new idea or element of the story seems to come out of nowhere, it can be a distraction from the reading experience. If your readers are feeling this way, chances are that element needs a bit more set-up in earlier scenes.
Make sure there is enough contrast in the “before” and “after” of your character’s emotional arc. A protagonist needs to grow or change or learn something during the course of the story. It’s not so much that the change has to be huge, but it needs to be notable and clear to the reader. Sometimes that means going back and revising to make the before-and-after difference more striking. A feeling that the events in the story matter, that they have made a difference, goes a long way toward a satisfying reading experience.
I didn’t notice it before I wrote this post, but now I’m seeing a common thread in this collection of ideas: the reading experience. That’s what we’re doing as writers, we’re creating an experience for a reader. It’s important to understand all the tools at our disposal to shape that experience, to understand what detracts and what enhances and why. When writers skillfully design and curate the story experience and then rely on the reader to do their part, that’s when the wondrous phenomenon known as story takes place.