Writing a book is a form of torture, I swear. Between the paralysing self-doubt, the voices constantly screaming in your head and the genuine addiction to playing God late into the night, it is without doubt, a form of torture.
But despite all that, when you see the results or hear of a reader sobbing at 3am because you killed bunnikins the third and all his fluffy bunnywabbit babies, it makes it all worth while.
We’ve all been there: unable to see the page for the hysterical tears, or laughing so hard you drop the book and lose your page. Or the ultimate – been given a book hangover by the latest series you binge read.
As authors, that’s exactly what we want to do our readers: hook em’, shake em, change em’, and set them free again.
The key to a hangover, is being able to change a reader, but in order to achieve that change, we need to drag them into the heart of our story. Which means, we need to know what the heart of our story is in the first place.
STEP ONE – Figure Out Your Own Why
Figure out why you’re really writing this story. And I don’t mean the pissy little answers non-writers assume like: ‘Oh there’s a book in you’ or “it’s just for fun’ or ‘you’re trying to be a writer.’ Sorry but while those things might be true, they’re mostly bullshit.
I’ve talked about finding your why, and your own personal philosophy before. The same principle can be applied here. Knowing why you write before you start writing is important because it’s your driving mechanism. It’s what keeps you going when fear, resistance and self-doubt are paralysing you.
Maybe you write to deal with your own personal baggage. Or perhaps to create the life you always wish you’d had, perhaps it’s rectifying a wrong you did or had done to you in the past.
Me? I’m a truth seeker.
I write because I want to explore truth. In every way: personal, global and human. I want to understand what our truth is. Are humans innately good? Or are we really a poison virus raping and pillaging the Earth? Frankly I’m fucking terrified it’s the latter. But there’s the crux of it, that fear is what drives me to delve deep inside people, rummage around the rawness of jealousy, love and pain and discover the most brutal truth there is.
So have a think, and let me know why you really write in the comments.
STEP TWO – Why are you writing THIS story?
It’s one thing to know why you write at all, but each story is an entity, a ‘being’ in itself. Each story has its’ own why and that’s the core of your story. It’s like your books own personal philosophy.
It’s more than just a theme, although theme is a major part of finding the heart of your story. Last week, in Lies – 5 Tips to Master The Perfect Character Arc, I talked about the Hunger Games, and the fact that Katniss believes that in order to survive she has to kill all the other tributes. This is the perfect example, because really the core of the book is about sacrifice.
And that’s Katniss’ truth – there is another way, but it will cost her, her life. No one said the truth was going to be what you wanted to here.
The reason we’re so sucked in to the Hunger Games, is because that truth, that core theme, is clear from the start. It might be subtly woven through the whole book, in order to make it a great read, but we know it’s there as readers. We feel it, because Suzanne Collins ensures that golden ‘sacrifice’ thread is stitched from the very first chapter (when Katniss makes her first sacrifice to be a tribute in place of her sister) right through to the end where she makes her final sacrifice, to die herself rather than kill Peta.
Connect those dots and readers will eat out of the palm of your hand.
STEP THREE – Take It To The Extreme
The thing is. Once you find your books core, it’s tender blood-filled heart, you need to rip it the fuck out and put it on display for your readers.
Bollocks to sensitivities and manners. People read books to be affected. To be made to feel something.
That’s how you do it. You take your core theme, your books why, and then push it (through your characters) to its absolute extreme.
Human experience, and our reaction to it is how you make people feel. Think about it.
If your character loved someone and the worst thing that happened to them in the whole book was their lover going away for two months.
Who gives a shitsickle. I could poop more interesting storylines.
But what if there was a misunderstanding, a row, their worst one yet and the last thing she said to her lover was she hated him, and then he went away. What if she regretted it the minute he left and travelled after him going through extreme conditions to find him only to discover he’d been killed. Well now, that’s more interesting. Sure, there are ways of pushing that storyline a LOT further, I’m just making the point.
If we go back to Katniss, we know that she IS pushed to the extreme. Both mentally and physically, having to fight and kill and cling to life with her fingertips.
These experiences are what lead her to her ultimate truth – she would rather sacrifice herself than that of a loved one.
And that is how you get to the heart of your book. If you can do that, you’re guaranteed to give your readers a book hangover.
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