Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
Do you have favorite authors? I do. When I find writers I like, I read all their books as soon as I can get them.
If you have favorite authors, what is it about them that you like? Are they so much better than other writers, or do they have something special that keeps you enthralled by their stories?
I’m going to guess that some writers simply have something special that attracts readers and has them coming back for more. There are plenty of good writers, many great writers, but the writers I revisit are those that aren’t only good or great but memorable.
The possession of that something special helps any one writer stand out from the crowd of otherwise equally competent writers. And today I want to encourage you to become familiar with and then learn to highlight your own something special that can make your stories memorable.
So what are we talking about here? How about humor or poetic phrasing? How about being able to weave complex and complicated plots without losing the reader? How about the ability to move readers emotionally?
When you’re writing your stories, I know that you’re concerned with plotting and characters and dialogue, with pacing and action and reaction. But at some point you may want to consider what strengths or unusual skills you have that you can play up in order to make your stories stand out. You may want to push beyond writing competent and good stories and push into creating memorable ones.
Plenty of successful writers don’t have a something special that differentiates them from others writing in their genre—or maybe they just haven’t learned to use that something special yet. Many books are good and worth our time even if they don’t end up on our top-100 lists because there’s something magical about them. Yet you can add or emphasize the special touch that only you can bring to a story. Only you have your style of humor. Only you have a particular way of looking at the world. Only you have that special way of phrasing that hits readers and burrows inside, resonating in them for days.
One writer I know is fabulous at writing scenes that create strong emotional impacts. She is known for such scenes, and readers expect them in her work.
Another writer acquaintance uses highly specific language that gives her stories a strong literary flavor, even though her novels are clearly contemporary romances. She doesn’t write long poetic sentences; she simply uses word choices that instantly convey more than common meanings to her characters’ thoughts and speech. The words fit her characters, but they’re so much more than character-specific words. They reveal character, deepen setting, and convey mood all at the same time.
You may have a similar skill or natural inclination, something that sets you and your stories apart. My purpose today is to get you thinking about that skill or bent, that talent that makes you and your fiction different. Maybe I can encourage you to play around a bit, get you wondering how to make your something special work in your stories.
Now, you might not have written enough yet to know what you do exceptionally well or what little detail will prove a hallmark of your style over time. And that’s okay; such a strength can develop with experience. But if you’ve been writing a while and readers comment on certain aspects of your writing again and again, you may want to focus on the subject of their comments. And you may want to play up this component of your writing that stands out.
While it’s true that you may have to take a different approach with some stories and not include this aspect of your writing style, if you’ve got a strength that is noticeably different and genuinely good, you should take advantage of it when doing so works for a story.
So if humor is a strength, use it in your stories. If your main character can’t be the humorous one, consider writing a funny sidekick.
If you write emotional scenes well, not underplaying or overplaying the emotions, be sure to include such scenes in your stories. And be sure to include emotional components in critical scenes. If the reader should be feeling something at a particular moment, make him feel.
If your strength is in portraying not-so-nice characters in ways that have readers rooting for them anyway, give readers such a character in your next book.
If complex characters are your forte, include them.
Maybe writing believable action scenes is your thing. If so, include them in every story and write them well. Don’t simply accept that you’re good at writing them and then let them write themselves. Polish such scenes so that they truly shine.
If you can twist a dozen plot threads into one tight narrative without losing readers along the way, do it. Create your puzzle or your maze and invite readers to wend their way through.
I admit that the twisting of seemingly unrelated story threads kept me turning pages late into the night with Tom Clancy’s early novels. I was amazed at the way he brought together separate story lines so successfully.
I don’t want to suggest that you must interrupt the writing of a first draft in order to focus on your writing strength; the plot, the characters, and the arrangement of events and scenes needs to come first. On the other hand, if you know your writing strengths, don’t think you must wait for draft four or five to highlight those strengths.
Beginning writers, you’ll want to get the story down first. Experienced writers, you may want to see which method works best—accenting your writing strength as you put a story together or weaving your something special in as you rewrite. But whatever method you choose, do consider accentuating your own something special. Whatever makes your stories stand out in a positive way can be played up.
This specialty, whatever it is, should feel organic to the story and to the characters. That is, you don’t want to impose something “other” onto the story. But if this strength of yours will improve the story or make it memorable without harming it, then try enhancing your something special.
Expand your emotional scenes and give them even more punch.
Use word choices that declare your characters different from run-of-the-mill characters common to the genre.
Use lyric or poetic phrasing or rhythms if that’s your thing.
Make dialogue sing if dialogue is your strength.
Give your characters insights that have readers nodding or mentally saying wow.
Play up tension or suspense if you do it exceptionally well.
If creating memorable characters is your strength, write bold characters who do the unexpected.
No matter what your something special is, highlight it when doing so adds to a story and play it down if it doesn’t work for a particular story. But do begin to look for that one skill or proclivity. You can write a good story without highlighting any special ability of yours, but if you’ve got one—and with enough practice, you’re likely to develop one—use it. Write scenes and stories and characters that can take advantage of what you do well.
Learn new skills, but make use of what you do naturally well. It’s already part of you; let it become part of your body of work. Don’t tamp down or hide the very element that makes you and your writing different.
Let the differences shine.