Conflict at a personal level is essential in any story and comes in various degrees and flavors. It can be anything from good-natured bickering to abusive and anywhere in-between. It’s another way to add depth to your characters and their relationships. Few can say, at least honestly, that they get along with everyone. There’s bound to be someone, or some type of someone, that drives you crazy.
If everyone is fighting all the time, then that can get grating, too. Like so many other things, balance is required. However, if everyone always gets along and is happy continually, that’s going to get pretty boring, mostly because it’s not a representation of life. Even fairytales have conflict, often brutal and lots of it. How many of those stories should be investigated by Children’s Protective Services? But how much of a story would it be without that element?
Conflict between characters makes a story come alive. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your main characters. Secondary characters are fertile ground for introducing personality conflicts.
No matter how unique your character is, he or she needs to be “relatable” to the reader. One way this can be accomplished is by including everyday life tasks and responsibilities, which are part of life. You don’t want to overdo it and give a twenty-four hour chronology of everything your character did from the moment he or she got up that morning. However, including a few in your story gives it a touch of reality.
For example, if your hero forgot to pay his power bill and his electricity was cut off, it tells you something about him. It builds character. If you can tie it into the plot in some way, that’s even better, but the main thing is it tells you something about the character than many can relate to, either in themselves or someone they know.
A story is more interesting when the reader learns something they didn’t know. Learning should be enjoyable and picking up a few facts in a novel is always a bonus on top of a good story.
I could easily go on a rant right now about how important I believe it is to keep your facts straight in your fiction, but that really isn’t my intent, at least in this blog. What I’m talking about are little tidbits, perhaps in the trivia category, the the reader didn’t know before. This can be about a remote subject, profession, or historical situation.
To be most effective, it needs to be tied into the plot in some manner. One easy way is to give your protagonist an interesting career or hobby. But remember to keep you facts straight. It’s usually best if it’s something about which you already have some knowledge. For example, I like to sneak some astrology into my stories. If you enjoy research, like I do, then the possibilities are endless.
Symbolism in your story will give it another dimension. Not all readers will catch it, but those who do will appreciate it. Much of the great classics in literature are heavy on symbolism. I remember being in my Senior Lit class in high school studying such things and wondering if the author had intended that when he or she wrote it. I have written things that I looked at later and realized they were symbolic while at the time that was not intentional. At any rate, if you want to write an award winning story, it should probably have it at some level.
Using weather to reflect or enhance a story’s mood is a classic, albeit unoriginal, way that actually isn’t true symbolism, at least the kind I’m talking about. It doesn’t have to be an object, though it can be. Often it is the plot itself, for example illustrating that not all prisons have bars, but can be a person’s mind. Science fiction is often used in this manner. If you’ve ever read “Alice in Wonderland” and didn’t catch the symbolism (perhaps because you were too young), you might want to read it again. Like nursery rhymes, literature is often used as a form of thinly veiled political protest.
Pets in a story are another way to add humor. Be sure to give the animal a personality, though. Its presence alone isn’t sufficient. Otherwise it won’t have any more impact than a picture on the wall or a random joke.
Being an integral part of the story is even better. Animals, at least to those who love them, are endearing and teach us about life in subtle, nonverbal (obviously) ways. A story written from a pet’s point of view can be particularly humorous.
Another benefit of including an animal or pet is that it can help sell it to those who are also fans of that particular critter. Some authors have done very well capitalizing on this trick. Give it some thought how it might add another dimension to your story.
Yesterday’s topic was humor. Let’s take that a step farther. Once you decide what kind of humor you want to include, then you need to decide how to include it. This can be done through the narrative coming through the point of view character, reflecting his or her thought process.
It can also be expressed through actions. This doesn’t have to be the sophomoric kind (see yesterday’s post for the definition), like the “Three Stooges” variety. It can be a gesture, someone rolling their eyes, tripping over a curb when trying to look cool, etc. Dialog is another easy way to show it through one of your characters.
The book I’m currently reading had me laughing out loud at how stupid one of the characters was by misnaming an historical figure. Skewing a quote is another way. People reveal who and what they are through their speech and this applies to your characters as well. Of course their thoughts, as expressed in narrative or stream of consciousness, is another.
You may have noticed that I missed a few days, which is the first time, well, ever, since starting these. Truth be known, I’m inclined to multiplex a bit more than I should and sometimes I’m going in so many directions I get nothing done. Since I’m in the throes of finishing up my WIP, this can be very detrimental to my progress. I can’t promise it won’t happen again.
So, that said, today’s topic is humor. (I know, it should be distractions, but that’s the way it is.) Humor is an important component, even in books that are otherwise serious. First ;you need to decide which kind of humor you want. If you’re not aware of the fact there are different types, then it’s time to get educated. Some examples are sophomoric, sarcastic, or dark.
Sophomoric is defined as “immature and over-confident.” It is often annoying, but a light-hearted romance or cozy mystery might do well with some silly, childish humor. Sarcastic humor works well in a story with an intellectual or more serious tone, such as thrillers and heavier mysteries. Dark, of course, fits well with horror as well as those for sarcastic.
If your story gets too long, you might want to consider breaking it into more than one book. Reader attention spans are short these days. They may be put-off by a story that will take weeks to complete.
Another angle is that you might make more money in the long run with two shorter books than one long one. Many people have personal limits on how much they’ll spend on a book, regardless of length. Perhaps the best way to optimize your income is to break it down.
I’m current wrestling with this dilemma myself. I’m up to close to 120k words in my WIP and am not entirely sure how long it will ultimately be since it’s not yet close to being finished. I’ll finish it before I decide since if it really goes on for a while, it might even be best to break it into three instead of one huge doorstop-type novel.
What’s your opinion as a reader? Do you appreciate a meaty tome that keeps you engaged for weeks or prefer one you can finish in a matter of a few days? Are you willing to pay a bit more for a long novel when you know the author puts out quality stories?
When you use actual scientific or historical facts in your story, you can include the source in a bibliography or perhaps individually as footnotes. This is particularly helpful if you’re using your story to make a certain point. This shows that any substantiating data you’ve included is real and may give your story a bit more punch and credibility.
If you do so, you’ll want to include a note to that effect on the copyright page or perhaps a page of its own to alert the readers that the footnotes are real, not a creative device. If done correctly, this can provide an even stronger “what if” to your story’s premise. It you’re trying to make a political statement or bring attention to something, such as a rare disease, or the plight of a certain social group, this is not only a good way to show that you’ve done your homework, but perhaps even gather support, official or otherwise, from those you’re highlighting.
Don’t ever underestimate the importance of a quality cover. But it goes beyond that. When designing your book cover, look at best sellers in your genre for ideas. General layout, font styles, and even the predominant colors should be similar. You want to fit in with the best.
If it doesn’t fit in with what readers are looking for, they’re likely to ignore it. Make sure it’s an accurate representation of your story, its genre, and good design. You want it to be worthy of all the hard work you put into writing it, not look like it was thrown together just to get the book published.
It’s acceptable to change your cover after your book is published, if you realize you goofed after the fact. Sometimes this can give it new life all around and attract readers who missed it the first time.