“Fridays with Friends” guest blog by April Gardner
I’m sure you will enjoy this article by April, and if you are like me, it will make you want to go immediately to COTT to read more of this great writing!
Good versus Unforgettable!
What makes a good story? Well-developed characters, an unpredictable plot, and a unique setting.
What makes an unforgettable story? An unforgettable story reaches the gut—that place deep down where basic emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness live and breathe. It’s here they are at their most sensitive and vulnerable. If you want to create an unforgettable story, it’s gut-level where, you as the author, need to reach.
But it’s more than just accessing this hard-to-reach spot. Once there, the writer must feed whatever emotion is being “played on” and feed it well. We’re not talking about tossing chum into the water, but about carefully dropping the choicest portions of meat in specified locations, baiting the reader to follow a pre-designated path.
The path can lead any number of places, depending on the plot of your story. Where it ends isn’t as important as what happens while on the path. The path is a long one—the exact length of your book, as a matter of fact. It travels over hills and across plains (not too vast, please). It climbs mountains and plunges into valleys. An unforgettable story has a good balance of all these landscapes but the ones a reader will come away remembering will invariably be the mountains and valleys.
As a historical romance writer, I think of the mountains as the romance and the valleys as the danger my characters are thrown into. In my mind, the more danger, the better. The stickier the situation, the more hopeless the circumstances, the closer I’ll come to reaching my readers’ seat of emotions—their gut.
Clash of the Titles www.clashofthetitles.com contestant Tina Pinson http://www.tinapinson.com/ uses this tried and true technique in her excerpt from COTT’s Gut-wrenching Clash. (taken from Pinson’s novel “In the Manor of the Ghost” http://www.amazon.com/Manor-Ghost-Tina-Pinson/dp/0595195911/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296069835&sr=1-1 )
“Kaitlin slipped past the barricades and pushed through the crowds. Heavy smoke made it hard to catch her breath. Nothing could stop her scream when she saw her apartment building engulfed in flames.
She scanned the lines of blackened faces. Her family wasn’t there. Her gaze was drawn to the building, to the raging mingling of fire and life. Kaitlin prayed her family would come out. No one exited — the agony of her thoughts cut her like a well-sharpened saber. Looking up, her thoughts became flesh.
Jean Marc stood in the upstairs window holding a bundle. Kaitlin knew, with another slice to her soul, the bundle was Simone. Jean Marc, so quiet, protective, so uneasily riled, yelled. Tormented wails for help rose along with tears of anguish and fear as angry flames licked out behind him.
The knife in Kaitlin’s gut pushed through and slit her spine, filleting with cold precision.”
Shivers just ran down my own spine. I’d say she reached my gut and gave it a good yank. Tina puts her readers into the minds of her characters then places those characters into every person’s worst nightmare—watching your loved ones die a cruel death right before your eyes.
Another example from COTT’s Gut-wrenching Clash is author DeAnna Dodson http://www.deannajuliedodson.com/ and her book “In Honor Bound.” http://www.amazon.com/Honor-Bound-DeAnna-Julie-Dodson/dp/0891079092/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1296069706&sr=8-1-catcorr
“No!” He struggled with the bars on the window. “Do not do this! Kate! Kate!” He was drowned out by the jeering crowd.
“Burn, witch!” they taunted. “Die, and be under God’s curse!”…
… He did not know if she actually heard him over the din, but she looked up just then and their eyes met.
“Kate!” he cried again, and he stretched his hand down towards her. Her mouth formed his name, but he could not hear her, then a stone caught her in the face and she flinched and turned away. A moment later the cart passed out of his sight and he saw her no more.”
Notice how in just these few lines, we get an accurate feel for what’s going on. A man is in prison watching a woman he cares for being sent to execution by fire. Talk about horrifying!
Both excerpts examples are the perfect wrench to any reader’s gut.
Without a variety of treacherous valleys such as these, a story will only ever be just a good story. And what author wants a good story when she can have “unforgettable?”
April W Gardner www.aprilgardner.com is the founder and senior editor of Clash of the Titles and author of the best-selling novel, Wounded Spirits. http://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Spirits-April-W-Gardner/dp/0981989616/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296069951&sr=1-1
Oh, wow, this is so true, and the illustrations were fabulous examples. Gut-wrenching is right.
Thanks for the post. It’s right on the mark.