The ABCs of Solid Storytelling

The ABCs of Solid Storytelling
by Sandy Blair

    Remember those wooden ABC blocks children had before Legos became popular? The A block, for example, not only depicted the letter but had an apple, an aardvark, etc., on it. All you needed was a little imagination and you could make anything your heart desired from an alphabet tower to a zoo train. Now apply the concept to story telling. Here are some Romance blocks to play with.

    Audacity. Either the hero or heroine should have a healthy dollop. They'll not only need it to overcome the mounting obstacles you're putting before them, but it will also keep the reader turning pages in hopes of finding out what on earth this character is going to do next.

    Think adversarial attitudes while coping with allure, of opposites attracting. Also think action and adventure (capture the reader's imagination.)

    Beauty, be it in your prose, characterizations, or settings. People are instinctively drawn to beauty. Why else would we bother to visit Yosemite or read poetry and Vogue?

    Charisma. Particularly in the hero. The reader has to want this man as badly as your heroine does. Think clever, cool, and collected. Charming when it suits him, caustic should he need be. And always capable and compelling. Burn that hero's name and image into your reader's memory. If I say Jamie Fraser, many of you immediately recall a brawny, auburn-headed Highlander from Gabaldon's Outlander. If I say Dallas, Houston, and Austin, many will call to mind images of Lorraine Heath's three seriously handsome and determined Texans. You can create the same compelling images by generating charisma.

    Deep emotion. Charcoal grey doesn't cut it when it comes to the "black" moment. Don't hold back. Don't settle for angry when you can make the hero or heroine furious. Don't settle for saddened when despair will make your reader cry. Desperate is good.

    Energy. We live in a fast-paced, sound-bite world. Few readers (or editors/agents) have patience for redundancy in either introspection (repetitive angst) or dialogue (your re-telling of information that the reader already knows as characters interact.) Keep the story moving.

    Facts. Create interest by incorporating a little something that the reader may not know about a profession or time period. But be frugal and only incorporate that which the hero or heroine needs to know to meet a goal.

    Geography is so much more than structure and landscape. Breathe the course of life into your settings. When the wind blows what do you smell? Fresh cut hay and roasting venison or garlic-infused sauce simmering on some unseen stove high above the rank steam emanating from a sidewalk sewer vent? What does a whipping wind carry? Pollen and the bleating of newly-shorn sheep or pages from a forgotten newspaper and a dozen discarded fliers offering free HIV testing?

    Humanity. We instinctively infuse foibles and compassion into our heroes and heroines but often forget to do the same for our villains. Don't run the risk of taking some of the punch out of your story by creating a two-dimensional adversary. Typhoid Mary took great pride in her work as a cook for the wealthy, refused to knuckle under when faced with adversity.

    Imperfection. Be it a physical imperfection or a character flaw, it's often the very thing that draws a reader to a character because they recognize themselves.

    Jealousy. A little competition is good for the soul. It forces the characters to re-evaluate their position and goals.

    Kissing is good, but sex sells. And memorable love scenes aren't crafted by focusing on what body part is rubbing against what other body part but by delving into what's going on within your characters' heads at the time.

    Love, so deep and abiding that one character will willingly die for the other.

    Mischief. A little goes a long way but often makes the reader smile.

    Novel. Think fresh, even if your high concept is nostalgic. Take it where no one has gone before.

    Opposites do attract. But go beyond the "She's neat, and he's a slob." Or "She needs her large supportive family, and he's a loner." How about exploring conflicting outlooks on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, faith, coping with loss, courage, money management, friendship, death, etc.?

    Possession (Thought I was going to say passion, huh?) Your hero has to believe to his bones that if he plans to stay sane, he has to have this heroine--body and soul. Your heroine (wiser, knowing those steely pectorals may someday grow soft,) should have a driving need to possess even more...This man's heart/unwavering devotion.

    Questioning one's motives and goals is an integral part of character arc/growth.

    Riches. Unless you're writing another Grapes of Wrath, think about giving either the hero or heroine an abundance of something your readers might desire, be it talent, land, power, courage, a close family, or whatever. Then balance that wealth by making the character deplete in something equally desirable.

    Stealth. Take the reader by surprise in the last paragraph of every scene if possible, not just at the end of every chapter. Hook 'em as much as possible.

    Timing is not only a matter of story pacing but of you getting the right story on the right desk at the right time. Be tenacious.

    Universal theme. This is your story's heart, the keystone upon which every chapter stands and to which every reader can relate. Come up with it before you start and you won't find yourself written into a corner or wondering, "Where the hell is this story going?"

    Voice isn't static. It matures with the writing and with time. Forget about writing that "great beginning" in the beginning. Don't waste time rewriting that first page or first few chapters over and over. What might satisfy you now won't necessarily satisfy you or be appropriate for the story by the time you reach the end. Just write and the perfect beginning will make itself known.

    Wrangling is a mistake. If you find your characters taking you down paths that you never envisioned, don't fight them. Give your characters the reins. Trust your muse. What's more important: that detailed outline you slaved over or your story ringing true?

    X, Y, and Zip code on the envelope, (don't forget the SASE) and off it goes. 

    Wishing you the best of luck with submissions.