Author Lisa Cron shares seven specific questions that can help the reader to vicariously experience the story better and keep them reading to the end.
- Here's something interesting, we're not wired to think in the abstract. We think in specific images. Concepts, generics, generalizations can't engage us emotionally. If we can't visualize it, we can't feel it. For something to really penetrate, it needs to be put in a context that allows us to vicariously experience it. It's the difference between talking about life on the Mississippi, or seeing it through the eyes of Huck Finn. It may sound counterintuitive, but a universal theme or emotion is only accessible through a very specific story that focuses on how it specifically affects one person. For instance, when you think of love, you don't envision a concept, you envision images that for you evoke the concept of love, which is why as I'm overly fond of saying, the story is in the specifics. Yet writers often write in vague generalities without even knowing they're doing it. Take a simple sentence like, Jake had a hard day at work. It's a fine sentence except we have no idea what Jake considers a hard day, or what actually happened. So we have no idea what might happen as a result. For instance, he could have goofed all day and been caught, that would sure be a bad day, or he could have worked insanely hard only to have his rival take the credit for it. That would be a bad day too. Both paint a very different picture with very different outcomes. Be specific, use the eyes wide shut test. If you shut your eyes, can you see it? If not, then neither can the reader. With that in mind, let's look at the six places where the specific has a tendency to go missing. First, the specific reason a character does something. Remember, we don't care what a character does per se, what we care about is why they do it because often the reason someone does something is the opposite of what it seems like on the surface and that of course is the interesting part. Second, the specific thing a metaphor is meant to illuminate. Readers must know exactly what the metaphor refers to in the story itself, or else we're left with a feeling that the writer is saying an event evokes in the protagonist. when her sister was born, without telling us what exactly her mother said. is why someone would suddenly decide to do something they had vowed they would never ever do. We want to be privy to the raging internal debate and what it is that ultimately tips the scales. And finally, the last thing to keep in mind is that each and every specific must be relevant to the story you're telling and that's very true. It's why it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the real goal of sensory details is to give us insight into the story itself so we experience it emotionally.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots