Read Part I of “Writing Good Stories” here.
Another major point of resonating with the reader is your presentation point. Words can be presented in many styles within the same paragraph-from Austen to Hemmingway. These will resonate differently, but adds variety to the story. A brief sentence, such as “He wept” or “The door opened,” one active, the other passive-both Hemmingwayesque, is very effective for capping or moving a story along. However, a passage such as “It is in the realm of human experience that men generally do not weep unless provoked in the extreme,” or “Shaken by the thunderous waves below the terrace, the mighty door decided to release its unbidden secrets,” are good examples of Austenian (and Dickensian) presentation. Both have their place, especially if we add a drop of humor or whimsy. Humor resonates well, and is very engaging.
Combining twist with resonance, we get image. Each reader has a wealth of experience that they bring to your work. If you tap into it, you resonate and engage. If you add to it, you engage relentlessly. Therefore, you should always be conscious of the images you create. Thinking of images brings the old yarn spinner to mind. You could write: “The moon shimmered over the water reflecting the tree-line to the mind’s eye.” Or, you could twist and resonate this into a memorable image. “Like Trojan horses against the night moon, the old oak forest lorded over the sleeping pond-a beach head of foreboding.” Now that is an image that engages. It is also a building block for more images of a Homeric kind, allowing you to reference everything from ankles to doublets, from Helen to Iphigenia. It is also more interesting, and therefore more engaging. Spin the yarn to its credible limits.
There are local images, such as the one referenced above, which engages the reader as they travel your words; and there are global images, which are built on situations, great big twists and bigger than life resonance. These are the icons of your work. The reader will most probably not remember your words, but they will remember the big pictures – the icons. When we think of The Wizard of Oz, we think tornadoes in Kansas, Scarecrows, Flying Monkeys, and Emerald Cities. We do not think of L. Frank Baum’s words. This is due to a famous movie. However, like the movies, the reader will remember iconic scenes. Therefore, to get a reader to say to another (potential) reader “My favorite part was when the cow fell out of the sky and landed on the pitchfork,” you must provide both cow and pitchfork, although not necessarily the sky. Even if your genre is Slice of Life psychoanalytical, you must provide an iconic scene, the grand image, for remembrance. When we think of Anna Karenina, we think Woman throws herself under the wheels of oncoming train (with snow and all the trimmings).
Engage the reader’s memory by seeding. Think of the story and its logistics. Introduce objects and people as seeds for later development. A spoon used to stir the tea, may very well be the twist that turns the story line. The chance meeting of a street bum might be an opportunity to have that street bum become the main character’s sister’s cousin. Perhaps he was an accountant fallen to hard times. Perhaps you will need an accountant to take inventory of the spoons. Like kneading bread, the more you use and reuse characters and objects, the more engaged your reader becomes. The reader begins to feel at home within your world, because they now have a vocabulary of things and people they trust. The more they trust them, the more your opportunity to twist through contradiction.
A vital part of seeding is structural. As you seed, you shore up the overall structure of your novel. You can seed by using scenario patterns or similar characters. Patterns are redundant behaviors in the plot, mirrors so to speak, that emphasize some part of your theme. At the same time, it hides major beams in your structure. A good example is from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which repeatedly has a departure image of a shining woman fading further and further away until disappearing. Tolkien also creates a pattern of danger and safety again and again, until the reader inherently believes that the characters will inevitably be in danger and, likewise, will be saved. Such patterning can be applied to similar characters, usually brothers or sisters, who extend each other’s depth by dipping from the same gene pool. This can be seen with Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby with the brothers Cheryble; or, the variety Jane Austen creates with her family portraits. These patterns are part of seeding the work to engage the reader better.
Finally, and most important, movement is critical. Stay in the same place for too long and you risk disengaging the reader. Therefore, you need to know when to dwell and when to move. Move too quickly and the reader is puzzled-too slowly, they nod off. In both cases, disengaged. Remember, if you cease to tell the story, the story ends. The trick for serialized genres, for example, is to forecast story movement so the reader can be disengaged from the story at a point in time and reengage immediately a week later. You can move forward by moving backward, although flashback is somewhat cliché. Nonetheless, you can move backward in story telling by having the characters tell the story. You can manipulate speed by changing points of view, although changing from first person to third person can be disconcerting if not handled well. Dickens discovered that in Bleak House. However, if you need to control the speed of delivery, try this: In a third person novel where character A is always the point of view for the reader, begin a chapter where character B is now the focal point. This will change speed and tone (and will have your English teacher screaming bloody murder. As long as your editor does not commit suicide, you are safe).
Many authors have difficulty moving forward. Their plot points call for a character to go from point A to point B, through many interesting subpoints. They manage to waste a good deal of time and effort writing non-essentially, using valuable materials and disengaging the reader. The secret of moving forward is just that. Do it. Have the character at point A, with a notion that point B is the destination. Then, start a new paragraph at point B. Use a short phrase like, “It was raining at Point B.” The reader adjusts to this immediately, and will not miss the mounds of walking, hiking, flying, and swimming (although swimming might be worth a subpoint-sharks and barracudas). They will be in the story and very much engaged. They do not need the infamous three asterisks (***).
In conclusion, a good story is one that fully engages the reader by twisting the elements into something worthwhile and memorable. You constantly tell the story, resonating with the reader’s natural ability to simulate into the world you create. Give the reader interesting images and some icons, and they walk away satisfied. Hold this world together through seeding and patterning; and, above all, keep it moving. Tell a good story and your characters will write themselves and your material will team with themes from cover to cover.
The above is an excerpt from Mr. Patterson’s book, Are You Still Submitting Your Work to a Traditional Publisher?