Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
The story’s written, and now you’re either working on rewrites or a final polish. Maybe you’re thinking about introducing your characters and their world to a few beta readers or your critique partner.
Before you do, why not try one more step?
This is not an article on craft or mechanics. Not really. It’s about vision. Or feeling. It’s about your story talking to you.
I was thinking about some of the snippets of advice I’ve offered to writers and found many of them to be of like sentiment. It’s not always about getting the comma right or crafting the perfect metaphor. Sometimes you want to capture an impression. A feel. A moment.
When your story’s finished, sit back and take a look at it. Not necessarily page by page, but impression by impression. You don’t even need to do this with pages in hand. Think about the big picture. Hear the story. Not the words on the page, but the unfolding drama, the unrolling of emotion and event and a character’s passion.
Close your eyes and use your inner senses. Listen or feel or see, but from the inside. Imagine your story playing out. And when you do, consider the elements that make good story. Determine where, or whether, your story uses these elements—
an exciting or involving plot that’s unpredictable
characters readers can identify with
characters readers can root for, love, or hate
characters who are not all good or all bad
Think surprises and twists and “aha” moments.
Think of pace. Does the story move? Are there highs and lows? Does it move faster as it nears the end? Did you encourage readers toward a high moment, build up to a black moment? Have you teased, included anticipation for characters and readers?
Think of your characters. Does the success of your protagonist come at a cost? A victory is more meaningful if it costs something dear. And for readers, it’s even more meaningful if major characters are involved with those costs.
Do characters have real flaws, flaws that influence their lives?
Make sure bad guys are not only evil, that they have reasons and motivations for their actions.
Make sure all characters have motivations.
Give characters reactions to events and dialogue.
Think of readers. Make readers care about characters. Make them care about outcomes. Make readers feel.
Keep readers in the loop—
identify advancing time
identify changes in setting
identify changes in viewpoint characters
Assume readers catch on quickly when you’ve shown or explained something—there’s no need to repeat, repeat, repeat yourself.
When you haven’t explained, don’t expect readers to be mind readers. They read your words, not your mind.
As you’re lying back, just letting your story play through your mind, ask yourself a few questions—
Have I entertained?
Have I been clear?
Have I skipped something important?
Does the story start in the right, the best, place?
Did I take out the boring parts?
Do I tip my hand too soon?
Did I include enough clues about the resolution?
Can I streamline anywhere?
Have I written for the senses? Will readers hear, smell, and taste my story?
Is my story believable?
Does the ending fit?
Have I written characters independent of my personality and quirks?
Does dialogue draw the reader in, draw the reader deeper, agitate the reader?
What could I do better?
Did I create a story, an adventure, a moment that readers will want to experience?
Did I give this story the best of my skills?
Are my skills sufficient to create the story that deserves to be told?
These aren’t questions to be answered as you flip through your hard copy. These are questions to be pondered as you sit on your back porch with a cup of coffee. As you relax in your bathtub. As you close your eyes before sleep.
These are story elements to be experienced from inside yourself, not from letters and words on a page. Try to feel the ups and downs, the rhythms, the emotions. Imagine your story world’s physical elements. Let the crisis moments wash over you—have you portrayed them the way you feel them? Have you made your characters anticipate moments with dread or anxiety or joy? Have you conveyed what you imagine is happening in your story world, portrayed it in all its messy splendor and with its unique properties?
Have you translated imagination to words?
Have you captured a fantasy and allowed readers to experience it?
If you have crafted an imaginary world that resonates on the page in the same way it plays out in your head, congratulations. You’ve managed to create a living world with fictional but real people who will mean something, if only briefly, to your readers.
If your story isn’t there yet, if what’s on the page isn’t what’s in your head and your heart, examine these issues to see where the translation has failed. And then rework the problem areas.
Yes, that’ll mean you have to leave the imaginary and head back to the nitty-gritty of craft and writing mechanics. But that’s part of the job for story creators. We can’t just dream—we’ve got to make the dream tangible for others.
A few more questions for you as you pass through your story world and its events. The answers to these—or maybe the questions themselves—might help you identify where your story is not quite hitting the mark.
Did you choose the best character(s) to tell your story?
Have you upped the stakes more than once?
Do those stakes matter to your main characters?
Did you weave a story or write a report?
Did you reveal something about the human condition?
Do you issue an impossible-to-refuse invitation for your readers?
Have you rewarded those readers with your best?
Have you made someone—character or reader—care?
Did you learn something about people, about life, about yourself?
Story is powerful; powerful stories are agents of growth and change.
Use your stories to entertain, yes. But don’t brush aside their inherent power. Use the same power that saw your story from idea stage to completion to influence your readers. Entertain, yes. But give even more. Give the strength of your imagination to your characters and readers. Give the complete package—not just a tale of events that happen to a character, but a life-changing moment that marks that character, that touches the reader, that makes you something other than what you were before you told your tale.
Feel your stories.
Write fiction that matters.