All of us are experts at sad stories. We’ve read novels that schooled us in death scenes, betrayals, fractured relationships, and harrowing pasts. These examples taught us that tormenting the protagonist is easy: just thwart his deepest longings. Then we can type “the end” and congratulate ourselves for accurately reflecting our fallen world. But the real sad story is how untrained we are in the art of weaving meaning into tragedy.
Story Embers Social Media Manager & Staff Writer
A long time ago on a hill not so far away, Gabrielle Pollack fell in love. Not with ice cream or cats (though those things are never far from her side) but with storytelling. Since then, she’s been glued to a keyboard and is always in the midst of a writing project, whether a story, blog post, or book. She was a reader before becoming a writer, however, and believes paradise should include thick novels, hot cocoa, a warm fire, and “Do Not Disturb” signs. Her favorite stories include Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga and Nadine Brandes’s Out of Time trilogy.
As those who know her will confess, Gabby is a whole lot of weirdness packed into one INFP. Sharp objects, storms, and trees are her friends, along with stubborn characters and, on occasion, actual people. When she’s not writing, she’s shooting arrows through thickets and subsequently missing her target, jamming on the piano, and pushing her cat off her keyboard. She hopes to infuse her fiction with honesty, victory, and hope, and create stories that grip readers from the first page to the last. Her other goals include saving the world and mastering a strange concept called adulthood. You can hang out with her on Instagram and Facebook.
Numerous books, blog posts, and worksheets claim that filling in hundreds of categories makes a story world complete. But without a goal at the center, your brainstorming will lack direction, and the details you come up with won’t fit together. Whereas if you integrate your story world into your plot and characters, every aspect of the culture will have a purpose. By following three steps, you can pull readers deeper in.
Happy endings resound with hope, reminding us of God’s ultimate triumph over evil. As we turn the last page, we feel homesick for the moment when He’ll wipe away all our tears and usher in the new heavens and new earth. But a thin line separates endings that point toward eternal bliss and endings that have been manipulated to give readers warm fuzzies. For a story to remain honest, the ending needs to reflect victory and reality.
Writers are lovers of drama. Hit us with a fast-paced shoot-out, a heart-rending rejection, or a tragic death scene, and we’re as happy as larks. Because conflict excites readers, we shove as much of it into our books as possible. Although dramatic irony contains that wonder word, it’s subtler than fight scenes and tear-jerking confessions. Dramatic irony involves manipulating knowledge, not action.
Human beings are hard to figure out. We rarely express our full thoughts or feelings, and when we do, misunderstandings still arise. How we process and react to situations is unique and impacted by everything from mood to history to personality. As we’re crafting characters who are intended to embody specific worldviews or lessons, we need to keep human complexity in mind. The strongest, most memorable characters expose their layers during pivotal moments rather than all at once.
When you think about fast-paced stories, what comes to mind? Cliffhangers that keep you awake late at night, turning pages so quickly that you get paper cuts? Or anemic character arcs and half-hearted themes. Sometimes films and books sacrifice character development for the sake of fight scenes and car chases. But if a character’s experiences don’t change him at all, what’s the point?
As long as a villain has a reason for his wicked behavior, he’ll seem real. Right? Or will he? Shoppers grow hungry but don’t steal. Bank tellers get angry but don’t beat up customers. Hardships tempt people to commit crimes daily, but they control themselves.
When you’re in the thick of writing, you’re pressured to perfectly structure your plots, ace your pacing, and polish your prose. Amid that chaos, character arcs can easily get lost. You want readers to be touched by hope when the hero perseveres, joy when he discards his selfish goals, or determination when he confronts the villain. But despite the effort you’ve poured in, you worry that readers won’t be able to follow the protagonist’s arc.
Plot holes are as dangerous to writers as the Joker is to Batman, Sauron is to Frodo, and Thanos is to the Avengers. Inconsistencies and improbabilities sneak into our manuscripts like nefarious villains, demanding substantial rewrites. We try to be vigilant, but what if a reader stumbles upon a crack we overlooked during editing?
Fear is beneficial for the warrior. When the earth was younger, fear motivated people to fight lions and giants to protect themselves or loved ones. Today’s writers are no longer battling beasts with spears but blank pages with pens. Like our brethren of old, fear can strengthen us, helping us to honestly evaluate our work and aim for excellence.