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.
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.
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?
A non-writer friend once told me that I seem to enjoy making my characters suffer. I disagree. Sure, portraying pain can be an exciting challenge, but I don’t relish putting my characters through trials. If their hearts are breaking, so is mine. Despite this, I realize that characters, like people, grow through adversity, and oftentimes they experience the greatest change when their circumstances can’t get any worse. In storytelling terminology, this hopeless moment is known as the low point, and it happens shortly before the climax.
When we hunt for clichés to remove from our manuscripts, we pay attention to characters, plot lines, and even phrases, but we have a habit of overlooking settings. Genres, however, tend to recycle details to the point that readers can predict the culture they’re going to encounter before opening a book. They might still enjoy the story if it’s crafted well, but they won’t experience the wonder of exploring unfamiliar territory. As writers, we should be striving for greatness, but we can’t achieve this goal if we rely on copy-and-pasted settings.