|TIPS FOR WRITERS
Ben Bova -- Page 3
7. The Chain of Promises.
Once you have the reader hooked with your opening, how do you keep her turning pages. The answer is simple.
The “narrative hook” of your opening is an implicit promise to your reader. Something exciting is happening to your protagonist; the reader wants to find out who this fascinating character is and why he’s in such desperate trouble.
In other words, you start out with a problem for the protagonist to solve. Do not solve that opening problem until you have created at least two more. Your story should be a chain of promises, a series of interlinked problems that the protagonist must solve. Each problem you present to the protagonist is a promise to the reader that there will be suspense, intrigue, excitement, adventure in the solving of that problem.
If you give your protagonist a problem on page one and then solve it on page two without other problems immediately on hand, the reader will stop reading. But if you make certain that there are always more problems propelling the protagonist (and the reader) deeper into the story, you can put in all the background details your story needs and the reader will keep reading, keep turning pages, eager to see how your protagonist solves her latest set of problems.
At the climax of the story all the problems must be resolved. All the major problems, that is. You may still leave a few minor problems unsolved. In fact, that gives the reader the impression that your characters go on living even after the last page of the story. That is a good feeling to impart to your readers. Make them want to come back for more.
8. Use All Five Senses.
One of the best ways to make your writing come alive is to use all your characters’ five sense in the story’s scenes: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell.
I don’t mean that you should have your characters sniffing and nibbling and fondling the scenery on every page. But too often a writer will describe only what the characters see, or what they hear. It adds to the depth of the scene if the other senses are used, too.
Try this simple exercise. Read a few pages of your story and note in the margin which of the five senses are being used by your characters in each paragraph. If you have paragraph after paragraph of nothing but vision, try to work in a line here or there about what the character is feeling: cold, warm, the rough bark of a tree, the silky folds of an evening gown. How does the forest smell? Or a garage, for that matter. Does the morning air have a special tang to it? Is the coffee your protagonist is drinking hot and bitter, or cold and overly sweetened?
Use all five senses in your stories, and your scenes will be much more “alive.”
9. Point of View.
Every story is about someone. Every story has to be told from someone’s point of view. Often, the viewpoint character is the protagonist. After all, she’s the one the story is about; why not tell it through her eyes? (And ears, and her other senses, too.)
Should you tell your story from a first-person point of view? “I woke up precisely thirty seconds before the alarm was set to go off.”
Or should you use the third-person P.O.V.? “George woke up precisely thirty seconds…”
There are strengths and drawbacks to each. A third-person P.O.V. allows you, the author, to assume an almost godlike power. You can show what’s going on inside characters’ minds, you can shift across time and space to show things happening even when your protagonist isn’t present to witness them.
The first-person P.O.V. is more immediate, and often more dramatic. But writing in the first person limits you to scenes in which your P.O.V. character is present. You can’t flit across the world or backward in time because the P.O.V. character has to be there in every scene.
I have found a way to combine the strengths of both techniques. Write each scene from one character’s viewpoint. Make certain, though, that the entire scene is shown only through the senses of that scene’s chosen viewpoint character. This way you can have the immediacy and dramatic impact of a first-person P.O.V. but you can leave that P.O.V. if and when you must.
Be very careful about shifting from one viewpoint character to another, though. In a short story, it is usually best to stick with one single viewpoint character, whether it’s the protagonist or someone else. In a novel it is possible to shift from one viewpoint character to another, but you must take great care to make certain that the reader understands these shifts in P.O.V. and is not confused by them.