Everyone enjoys turning red in the face and struggling to breathe for a few seconds after a hilarious experience. Laughter lightens your mood, reduces stress, and even improves your immune system. On a relational level, humor helps you connect with others whether you’re swapping anecdotes in the same room together or reading a character’s wisecracks from a printed page. Humor makes stories more engaging overall, as well as balances out tenser scenes.
Story Embers Staff Writer
Allison Raymond has been captivated by stories for as long as she can remember. She was only eleven years old when she came to recognize writing as God’s purpose for her life. Although many years have passed since that moment, she has never doubted this purpose. Instead, she chooses to spend her time working hard to make her dream of becoming a published novelist a reality.
Allison grew up in Virginia, Illinois, and Oklahoma. She now lives in Missouri, where she is attending college in pursuit of a degree in Secondary English Education. In the future, she hopes to become a high school English teacher to share her passion for storytelling with aspiring young writers. Currently, she shares this passion on her personal blog and in a large number of her daily conversations.
A little over a year ago, I signed up for a theater class. Most of the lessons focused on the techniques actors use to learn about the roles they’re portraying, which involves much more than memorizing a script. Before ever setting foot on stage, each actor identifies the goal his or her character is trying to achieve in the upcoming scene. Whether it’s as simple as asking a friend for a favor or as dramatic as attacking an enemy, the character and actor both need motivation to move from Point A to Point B.
After I finished the draft of my first full-length novel, I eagerly sent a copy to a friend for feedback. Much to my dismay, she flagged one of the most important scenes: an argument between two of the protagonists. She said it seemed out of character for both of them, and I had to agree. They lacked a reason to be emotionally invested. But how could I rectify the mistake without altering the story’s outcome?
Theme is a hot topic among writers. From elementary school to university courses, teachers ask students to identify the messages that literature tries to communicate. Writing blogs discuss how to incorporate and strengthen themes. And fans relish debating the major themes of popular novels and films. While all of these exercises can reap beneficial insights, the assumption behind each one is that the theme was in the forefront of the author’s mind from the first draft onward. But that’s not always the case.
Despite being the most prevalent health condition in the United States, mental illness causes a devastating sense of isolation in the victim. That’s why those readers need characters they can empathize with—to remind them that they’re not alone and inspire them to push through dark moments. However, misrepresenting mental illness can be far more harmful than avoiding the topic altogether, as Netflix’s adaptation of 13 Reasons Why demonstrates. The month after the show’s premiere, youth suicides increased by 28.9 percent.
Although the wide range of dialects that exist in reality may not be useful in every fictional setting, a solid understanding of how a person’s environment affects their vocabulary can help you craft unique voices even in the most fantastical story worlds. As you begin to refine this aspect of your characters, you’ll achieve the best results if you keep three guidelines in mind.
The first time I set out to write a novel, I ground to a stop on the twenty-ninth page. A year later, I decided to toy with a different premise. That time, I reached sixty-two pages before I hit a blank I couldn’t push past. In both of these attempts, I wrestled with the same problem: I had a vision for the beginning and the ending, but I couldn’t figure out how to connect them. In fact, my plot refused to stretch beyond a few chapters.
In high school, my creative writing teacher assigned an activity where each of us students had to go to a different section of the building and record everything we observed. But we weren’t supposed to blandly list people’s movements and conversations. The goal was to describe scenes how we thought a novelist would—and that one small shift in perspective yielded powerful results.
Characters are like a magnetic force that either pulls readers into the story or repels them. If they can identify with the cast, they’ll be more forgiving of other mistakes. But even a riveting plot, intriguing setting, and beautiful prose can’t save a story if the characters aren’t relatable. Readers need a reason to become emotionally invested, so all of your primary characters must be three-dimensional, not just your protagonist.
Everyone questions their worth at one point or another—but especially those of us in creative industries, such as writing, because we face so much rejection. Whenever we prepare to share a story with others, we’re tempted to judge ourselves by how it might be received. Is it good enough? Are we good enough? Will readers like it? What will they think of us? Is it clever and original? Are we talented? Will a publisher accept it? Do we belong?