Saturday, October 11, 2008

Capturing the Reader

The whole point of writing is for someone to read your story. Yes, writing is therapy for the author, but any author desires to have readers. However, many writers of family stories tend to focus on only reporting the facts of an event, thus boring those who attempt to read it. We do not realize the reader’s excitement about our story is equal to having a hair transplant.

You must capture that reader, making him or her excited about what is happening so that the reader will continue reading. But just how do you do that?

One of my writing students summarized the method of engaging the reader as: Write for yourself; Revise for others. These are very wise words. Write your story as you remember it. This will tend to be factually-perceived sentences in chronological order. Then take the time to revise your work by using any of the methods listed below:

1. Begin your story with an exciting opening paragraph. Do not give away the climax of the story, but start with an event that draws attention and makes the reader want to find out more.

2. Use foreshadowing. This technique allows the reader to guess what may come next. Do not give too many hints of what is to come, but enough to indicate there are more interesting times which will follow.

3. Use flashback. By starting with an event, you flash back to an earlier time that is related to the story you are writing. For example, if a woman left her family without notice one day, you might look in that woman’s past to see if the behavior had occurred previously. You may discover that as a child she ran away from home. Your story would then flash back to that earlier time and the events of her leaving as a child.

4. Add more details using the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) so the reader sees what you see in your mind and feels how you felt at the time of the event…or how the characters felt, if you were not there.

5. Write with feeling and emotion. Grab your reader and make him or her that cat in the corner. Make the reader feel they are involved in the story emotionally.

6. Make the reader care about your characters by showing their personality and their emotions. Do not report who they are or what they did. You want the reader to identify with your characters through their actions in the story.

7. Write with humor. Fresh new sentences that are humorous are best. No jokes or trite lines that are so common they are boring. Try comparing two items which are not always related. Look for links, connections, or relationships. For example: Life has taught me that in the A Plan/B Plan scenario, “A” really means “Almost works" and the “B” means “Backup.”

8. Use hyperbole. This term only means exaggeration. You must exaggerate enough that the reader realizes you are stretching the truth, but not so badly that your humor becomes boring or trite.

9. Use metaphors and similes. Both of these terms compare two unlike objects. With similes you use the words “like” and “as.” With metaphors, the comparison is enhanced by the verb.

EX: The ship cut through the waves like a plow (similie)
The ship plowed the sea. (metaphor)

You must be the Master of the Metaphor, however. That is, write your own and do not rely on those over-cooked lines, such as: He was as strong as a bull.

10. Use exciting verbs and unique phrases in your writing. Avoid redundancy.

There are many more ways to enhance your stories, and the more you read and write, you will discover ideas which will get your reader involved with your story and your characters. However, do not overuse any one method. Variety is best.

Below is an example of a paragraph which reports the facts and one which enhances the reader’s interest. Which would you rather read???

Just the Facts:
Driving east along the A-5 from Bangor Priscilla and I entered the Snowdonia mountain region of Northern Wales. As the roads were narrow and our car large, I’m sure Priscilla was a bit tense. The area was beautiful and we stopped several times so I could better see it. One stop was where a beautiful river flowed down a narrow canyon. Tourists were enjoying the view on the rock above it. We took a few photos.

We FINALLY found the A-5 and headed east from Bangor. No doubt Priscilla was white knuckling it for miles, but she maintained her wonderful demeanor as we climbed the northern mountain area of the Snowdonia region and ogled at the sites through the pass. Even though I live in a valley surrounded by mountains, they don't compare to the rugged beauty around every turn in Northern Wales. As the driver, I was unable to see the beauty as well as I liked, so several stops were made to inhale the wonders. One such stop was at a beautiful river which fell into a narrow canyon. Tourists were sitting on a rock above it, and we joined them for a picture or two.

AND, of course, the Monster Mercedes... not liking the lack of attention... started bleating for its mother (Hey, we are in sheep country here!). We had been having a time trying to find the source of its occasional beeps as we drove, but now, the beeps were replaced by rude screams, heard by all. You would think I was torturing the poor thing! At first I thought it was parked so close to the highway that the passing cars were setting off the alarm. The parking area was narrow. I finally discovered the source of its cries, but don't recall now whether a door wasn't completely shut, the trunk was ajar, the break wasn't on, the lights were aglow (MY car is much less than a Mercedes and turns off the lights automatically, but NO...NOT THIS THING! All I know is if that car didn't get its way, I heard about it. What an embarrassment! I could hear EVERYONE mumbling from each mountain top "those dumb Americans!" The beeping was still a mystery as we continued on our way.

©Aulicino, 11 Oct 2008

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