Our last blog post started a conversation about what I think goes into a good story and I’d like to add more to the discussion today. I don’t think this is an exhaustible topic by any means and I admire, and learn from, people in many walks of life who use stories in their communication.
The more impossible the conflict is, the more interesting your novel will be. Sad to say, there is nothing more boring in a novel than a character whose life is in perfect order, whose relationships are all smooth and sunny and who has always loved their job. For pity’s sake, give them flaws and weaknesses, enemies and inadequacies. Show us the scheming uncle, the mean-spirited mother, the spouse with no backbone and the cousin who is out to take your character’s meagre savings of. Engage us with drama and intrigue! Give yourself permission to say things that are not nice! That’s what keeps us reading.
If there aren’t any suitable characters to rage against, make sure your character has a good dose of conflict with someone or something. They can be pitted against Fate or God, Technology, Nature, the Supernatural, or even, God help us, themselves. Let’s have fear and anxiety, insecurity and failure. It all makes for wonderful reading.
If you want to have fun with your story, be sure to use a little symbolism. There are reams of information available online about symbols and symbolism but to be honest, I don’t think many of us want to be overwhelmed with it all the time. My favourite use of symbolism is subtle, gradual, so that I see the round table at which the lovers sit and think “Ahhh—Eternity!” But please don’t give us all another black cat to ponder. That was probably old in Methuselah’s time.
I think foreshadowing is a lovely technique for waking up the dark recesses of the brain and, again, it requires a gentle touch. If it’s too obvious, your readers will know the end game before we’re half way through, and if you’re too ham-fisted it won’t be fun to read what you’ve written. But subtle clues keep us on the edge of our seats, holding our breath, and wondering, “Was the author foreshadowing the character’s death? Or not?” Give us the delight of not knowing!
I love working with themes and I quite often use them in my business writing, as well as in fiction. Ideally, a theme is like a quiet river of thought running underneath the texture of the words. A theme is a central idea or insight that unifies your story. Take “loyalty,” for example. You might highlight the abuse of loyalty through the actions of one character and its desirability through the actions of another. It might be pure and sweet in the behaviour of a child and completely disregarded in the mind of a miserly grocer. But think about what you want to say about loyalty (or whatever theme you’re playing with) and bring that commentary out through the interaction of your characters.
Have you started a novel? Would you like some help completing or editing it? I invite you to visit my business website to see some of the ways I work with authors and if you see something there that resonates with you, please get in touch!