We might have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a story when we pick up a new book. Most of the time, we can judge that book by its cover – or if not, then by its reviews or word-of-mouth from friends.
Even if nobody else has read it yet, we feel fairly certain that a book showing a rancher and a schoolmarm in a chaste embrace will likely end with the couple getting married. Or a book showing a police badge and some crime-scene tape will likely end with the detective taking the killer to jail.
So if we already know the ending, how can there possibly be any page-turning tension along the way?
A few months ago, my editor and translator colleague Luis Pelayo asked me, “Why aren’t more US authors publishing in Spanish?” He shared a 2019 report titled El Español: Una Lengua Vivafrom the respected Instituto Cervantes, a non-profit organization devoted to the study and teaching of Spanish language and culture. The study states that Spanish is a first language for 483 million people around the world and that in the US, Spanish is the second most learned language at every academic level. What’s more, because of demographical reasons, the percentage of Spanish speaking persons continues to increase.
That’s a lot of potential readers who need some good books in Spanish.
Animal characters are created in all genres, either in cartoon-like or realistic forms. They may be walking, talking substitutes for human characters, or reality-based beings that may or may not be augmented with special abilities. No matter how you incorporate an animal into your story, they should be a memorable character.
Choose Your Animal
Some animals will better fit a particular function in a story. In a reality-based fight scene, a snake probably wouldn’t do as well as a dog or a cat.
Say you are writing fantasy and want a reality-based animal to act as a spy. A bird might work well in this instance, perhaps a raven, as was done in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Ravens are intelligent, playful, and have a sense of humor, having been known to perch on snowy rooftops waiting for people to pass by, and then pushing snow on top of them.
When writing historical fiction, consider researching which animals were popular pets of the era so the animals will be a good fit for the story. Jean Auel conducted an immense amount of research for her brilliant prehistoric fictional Earth’s Children series. She incorporated the domestication of wolves in her work. The main protagonist, Ayla, studies animals in order to hunt for food and learn their habits. Those wolf studies enable her to understand pack behavior and the similarities to the human pack or extended family unit—leading to the domestication of a wolf pup.
One of my favorite animal characters is the dog in Dean R. Koontz’s suspense novel, Watchers. Einstein is a golden retriever, altered at the genetic level by scientists working with the military. This dog has a high intelligence level, psychic ability, and sense of humor along with the characteristics typical of a golden retriever. Einstein functions as a secondary protagonist, a protector, and in a way serves as a comment on human behavior.
Writers are no stranger to pressure. In fact, the entire process of story creation is laden with it: pressure to craft characters that readers will relate to and fall in love with, pressure to pen a story that is fresh and new, pressure to market the story well so it sells and we can keep doing what we love. No problem, right?
*passes out paper bags*
Got your breath back? Good.
Sure, we all wish this career was a bit easier, but the truth is that pressure puts our feet to the fire and that’s when we do our best work.
The more we know, the better our writing becomes, so today I’d like to help with a specific point in the story that is really do-or-die: the opening.
The start of a story is a massive juggling act. We need to…
The characters are fresh, the scenes are full of tension, and the story has come to a satisfying resolution. One step remains before you declare: Done. It’s that final check. You click on the little magnifying glass in the top right-hand corner of the page and search for over-used words.
Your mission: to find and eliminate.
You’re on the hunt for those unnecessary qualifiers (started to,seemed to,began to), attempts to create urgency (all of a sudden, just then), clichés, and personal pets.
“Personal pets” vary and thus can’t be found on a website. (That’s what makes them personal.) For me, they’re all those shrugs and nods and sighs—the lifting of shoulders and eyebrows, tightening of lips, dipping of chins, narrowing and widening of eyes—and any phrase that includes the word breath or pulse.
Your list may be different, but you have one. We all do.
Writing an irresistible novel that readers can’t put down is the goal of most writers. Using plot-strengthening techniques gleaned from Young Adult writing can improve any novel, no matter the genre or the age of readership. A story featuring a teen protagonist has a fertile bed of emotions to cultivate with built-in rites of passage moments that all readers can relate to or anticipate.
The following seven elements can heighten the drama and tension in any story, helping you write a book your readers won’t want to stop reading.
1. Utilize a subplot about Belonging.
Be it finding peace in a dysfunctional family, bonding with a band of misfits, or navigating the expectations of first love, YA books all have a coming-of-age component that stems from a need for acceptance.
Completing a draft of a book can feel like you scaled a mountain. You might take a moment to breathe and celebrate. You did it! You are on top, after a difficult climb. And then you notice, as the clouds clear a bit, that you have only scaled the first peak. There are three more even steeper peaks ahead before you can call it DONE! Those triple steep hikes are called editing.
I recommend three different edits completed by three different people. Try to use both men and women and people from different races and backgrounds than your own. They will provide a more diverse edit and provide you a broader perspective on your work.
If you are having the book edited by a traditional press, the process is similar to the experience of self-publishing in which YOU are the publisher.
I don’t recommend skipping any of these edits, because there is nothing worse than a manuscript full of typos, errors, and even plot holes.
The very phrase “self-advocacy” in the context of my writing gives me shivers of trepidation. Will you follow me on social media? Read my latest essay? Blurb my book? Buy my memoir (someday), and then please, oh please, write a review?
I’ve never been good at asking for help, for anything. When my husband and I were dating in college in Washington, D.C., he had a car and I didn’t. Once, I told him I took a very inconvenient bus ride somewhere.
“Why didn’t you tell me you needed a ride? he asked.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” I answered.
“Karen, it’s me, Michael,” he said, looking at me incredulously. “Just tell me where you need to go and I’ll take you.”
So you want to write for magazines and websites…great! Writing articles can be an excellent way for authors to promote their work, build a platform, hone their skills, and get paid. How do you start? With a pitch, of course. But how do you make sure your pitches will land the way you want them to? Allow me to share with you some of the wisdom I have gleaned from over twenty years working in media and publishing, most recently as Editor-in-Chief of Writer’s Digest magazine.
After so much time on both sides of the editor’s desk—as a full-time freelancer, and as an acquiring editor – I’m confident I’ve seen the best pitches, and the worst ones. I’ve sentout both kinds of pitches in my own career too!
Here’s a list of some of the biggest OOFs! I’ve seen writers make (myself included). This list isn’t intended to shame anyone—I’m giving it to you so you can avoid making these mistakes in your career.
Ever ended a rough week by killing off one of your characters? Yeah, me too. No matter what people say, it can be cathartic. Even therapeutic. But, for authors with little to no drug knowledge, plot twists involving an overdose (accidental or otherwise) can seem complicated. To maintain credibility with readers, authors should make sure to get at least a few crucial drug-related facts right.
Written well, an overdose scene is a page-turner. But if your character instantly drops dead from an insulin overdose, the thud you hear won’t be from the body dropping to the ground.
It will be from readers closing your book in utter disappointed.