O is for Opening.
There’s always a debate about what makes for great and memorable stories. It’s easy enough: a story that pulls you in emotionally and won’t let go even after the book is finished. But how do you write that?
There are many formulas out there on how to write a proper story. There are formulas on how to engage readers emotionally. There are formulas to write great action sequences. And if you write a lot and practice all of these, you’ll be a passable writer. But you won’t be memorable.
I’m not saying that readers won’t enjoy your stories. I’m not saying that you won’t have a fan base. But I am saying that if you don’t have universal truths, lessons learned from pain, or any of those exciting stuff that help people to learn more about themselves while reading, your story will be fun yet forgettable.
Let’s think movies:
If Jack didn’t die saving Rose – after saving her in every way a person can be saved – the story wouldn’t leave you in tears every time you watch it. And if Rose didn’t go on to live a full life, the story would’ve fallen flat. But what made that so memorable? Because of the awful truths of Rose’s life before meeting Jack on the Titanic.
So what do movie goers get out of this story? Everyone has some awful truth about their lives they are ignoring/blind to/trying to flee – just like Rose. And then Jack enters. He helps her to see that there is more to life than what she is experiencing. He gives her the courage to live the life she chooses. And movie goers all want what Jack offers: freedom, love, happiness.
Besides, who doesn’t love a good retelling of a classic? (“Romeo and Juliet” in this case.)
How do we use this in our writing?
We all have lived lives full of joy, loss and longing. Our experiences have shaped us and informs our decisions. We aren’t the people we were last April.
You don’t have to go from scared Hobbit to adventurer in a year because of a wizard, dwarves and meeting elves. But slight changes in your life will affect how you are in a year from now.
Your writing will reflect this.
Oscar Wilde said that all writing is a form of autobiography. Go and read something you wrote a decade ago: you will hardly recognise the person you were.
So how do you use this? For me, certain songs and artists define a period in my life. The right playlist can evoke memories and emotions from that time. And I can use it to tell the truths of a character, informed by my own experiences I haven’t thought of in a long time.
Does it work? Yes. A reader recently told me she’d cried, seeing things from her own life, while reading my book “Eens…”.
Opening up, letting readers in, allowing them to live their own stories through yours makes for great reading.
We’re all scared of doing this. That’s why formulas are so soothing: you can write a structurally sound novel with a bit of emotion without feeling it. But once you feel it… your stories won’t be forgotten.
My current favourite book that does this masterfully is “Ink Exchange” by Melissa Marr. Do you have any favourite books that uses this technique? Have you ever thought about why you love “Titanic” so much? Have you ever read a book that spoke to you?
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