Only the invisible bears us up; we speak together in the shocking darkness, each carrying the other somehow, unseen.—Derek Raymond
Here’s the thing about storytelling, folks: it has to have a purpose. Why are you telling this story? I mean, what’s your point?
If your point is that writing fiction is one heck of a fun and entertaining way to spend your leisure time, then I say, “Good for you.” Have yourself a field day. You’re enjoying your life! That’s what it’s there for.
However, if your point is that you expect to sell this story and make money off other people reading it, then I say, “Know thy audience.” Thy audience is not entertained by watching you hang out at your desk laughing hysterically at your own in-jokes. They are not moved to weep when you get all blue inside. They are not cast off the rainbow into epiphany by you leaping to your feet yelling, “Eureka!” They’re still sitting there stolidly waiting for it to matter to them.
And if you can’t give them that. . .well, don’t be holding your hand out waiting for the cash registers to start ringing. They’re not going to.
There is only one purpose to storytelling, and that is to get to the CLIMAX. So if your novel’s CLIMAX is boring, redundant, more trouble than it’s worth—FORGETTABLE—then you have a problem no amount of writerly marketing hype can overcome.
This is the simplest technique ever, but aspiring writers rarely know about it. Resonance is that wonderful reverberating feeling inside the reader that makes their whole body feel like it’s been gong’d. Gonging a reader is putting them between two large brass gongs and giving it a hearty whangngngng. Great novels always have resonance. The reader reels back in their chair at the end shrieking, “That was toooooooo fabulous!” Then they’re desperate to read it again. Or, better yet, to read the very next thing this author writes.
You create resonance by putting a subtle but clear clue to your CLIMAX somewhere near the very beginning, then spending the rest of the novel drawing the reader’s attention away from it. This is why mystery writers have to put the culprit in the first 1/4-1/3 of the novel.
The simplest technique ever.
This is the part pantsers love doing but rarely know they have to follow up on. You know what we call fuses that aren’t followed up on? Loose threads.
When you pants loose threads without knowing they’re supposed to be fuses, you get to the end of your novel. . .and it doesn’t end in all the fuses coming together to make an almighty explosion, but in you, personally, getting bored. Sadly, the writer is the last person who ever gets bored. Guess what that means? That’s right. All your readers have already died of boredom and turned up their toes long, long before you finally meandered into your ad-hoc, how-can-I-get-out-of-this? WTF-ever ending.
That’s not a CLIMAX. That’s just a fizzle.
Go ahead and amuse yourself to the eyeballs with the fruitful, verdant abundance of your random imagination. Lots of fuses! Boy, howdy!
Then spend some lengthy, intense, brain-breaking hours figuring out exactly how all those wild ideas can come together in the most thrilling, wonderful CLIMAX ever, the reason your legions of future fans are going to love this novel and read it again and again and again.
You all know about cause-&-effect, right? Because you’ve been listening to me rant about it for ages, on this blog, on my advice column, and in my books?
Readers do not read for the honor of watching you sit around all your days scratching and drinking coffee (as fascinating as that might be). No. They read for logic. Their minds are steel traps. IF a character were to have this personality, AND they were to find themself in that impossible predicament, THEN how would they cope?
Every single event you put into your story must be tied inextricably to the other scenes. What’s your CLIMAX? And what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that?
You know the old E.L. Doctorow saw about writing a novel being like driving a car at night where all you can see is whatever’s within reach of your headlights? That’s actually backward. Writing a novel is like backing a car up at night where all you can see is whatever’s within reach of your taillights.
Readers stop reading when they stop being addicted to your story. When it stops surprising them. When their curiosity dies.
“What’s that? Something just fell out of me onto the floor. Oh. My curiosity. DEAD.”
Not only must every single page inspire your reader’s curiosity anew, keep it fat & healthy, thrill it with unending surprises, keep your reader helplessly addicted to you and your story. . .your whole reason for telling this story had darn well better be the most surprising, curiosity-inspiring, addictive part of the whole thing.
“How’d that author DO that?” You want them desperate to keep reading your novels to find out, “What kind of magic are you WORKING here?”
At the same time that your CLIMAX must be surprising it must also be inevitable. Deus ex machina is cheating. And readers with minds like steel traps hate cheaters. Do you want your readers to hate you? No, you do not. Not if you want their money you sure don’t. But how do you make your novel’s CLIMAX both surprising and inevitable? Both unexpected and familiar? Both shocking and ringing impossibly true?
All three parts of the braid working together: Resonance. Fuses. Impeccable, inescapable cause-&-effect Logic.
Lock it in.
And when you’ve got all three aspects of the novel locked in (HOOK, DEVELOPMENT, and CLIMAX), remember to stick those 4 Essential Post-Its up over your writing desk.
MOST HILARIOUS COMMENT:
I might have this tattooed on my forearm. The entire post.—Jessica
The Art and Craft of Fiction:
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by Victoria Mixon
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The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
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