by Fae Rowen
On the plane home from Atlanta in July, I re-read my notes and handouts, highlighting tips that resonated with me as I prepared for a major edit on my WIP. When I participated in the UC Irvine Writing Project, I learned the technique of highlighting a few word in an article, an essay, or short story that were lessons for me and my writing. The instructors called these highlighted snippets “golden lines.” This method is different from using up the ink of a yellow highlighter as if you’re getting ready for a test. It’s much more selective. Think of it as a “for immediate implementation” list.
Here are my Golden Lines (in no particular order) and how they’ve helped me step it up a level (or two) in my writing:
1. Be grounded in emotional reality. We ‘re human. We feel. I’ve run the gamut of writing characters who are off the chart emotionally–mean and angry without enough reason–to “pump up” the story. And I’ve written characters that are human but act like unfeeling robots. My critique partners cried foul (and rightly so) on both counts. If you missed them, last week Tiffany Lawson Inman wrote about Emotional Barriers: Part 1 and Part 2 and how to break through them to become better writers.
2. Secondary characters have their own lives. Especially in a series. I’m working on a New Adult series. This Golden Line helped me see my secondary characters as people rather than props. In my revision I’m adding their feelings and reactions to scenes. And guess what? They are becoming much more three dimensional. I think that’s another hook to keep my readers turning the pages. And readers are going to want the stories of my secondary characters!
3. When your story is bogged down is a good time to have the character realize she’s going after the wrong goal. I tend to have so much plot and action that “saggy middle” is not a big issue. But, pantster I may be, I think this is a great tool for those plot points/turning points that outliners and diagrammers have at the ready–and I rarely know when they should happen.
4. What would be the biggest shock to the reader now? This can be a hard one to figure out and even harder to implement in your writing. But think about your favorite books or movies. I’m a sci fi freak, so my example is from Star Wars. Do you remember how you felt when you found out that Darth Vader was Luke’s father? Nooooooo.
I’d been thinking of adding a short scene at the beginning of my book to work in some necessary backstory between the heroine and her mother. Laura Drake suggested I write the scene between the heroine and her step-father. I wanted the reader to have a visceral response, so I got out the metaphorical wires and water and sent a little jolt through the reader at the end of the scene with a question the step-father asks the heroine.
5. Give the secret to the reader, but not the character. This accomplishes a multitude of possibilities for foreshadowing and creates curiosity in your reader to see how your character is going to deal with this secret. As you stack the deck against your character with details that revolve around the secret and possibly obscure the hidden information, your reader has a heightened awareness of danger, betrayal, or whatever plot-twist is in the works and will turn the pages to find the answers to their questions. Readers will want to know how the character finds out the secret and then how the story changes.
6. Hooks keep us on the edge of our seats. Hooks entice the reader to find out more. I used to make sure that I had a decent hook at the end of every chapter. I tend to write longer chapters with up to four scenes. Now I make sure that I have a hook at the end of every scene. If readers are emotionally involved in the story, they’re hooked.
How about a hook from this year’s Oscar winning movie, Argo? The body hanging from the crane as Ben Affleck drives through Tehran foreshadowed very bad things. Here are some other types of hooks:
- Small “bread crumbs”
- A discovery
- A new awareness of something
- A lure
- Something left unsaid
- A surprise or secret
- Reveal something that will create emotional fallout in the next scene
- Sexual tension–moments of denial, resistance, exploration and acceptance are all hooks (It’s not about the sex. It’s about building the tension before the sex!)
- Something forbidden
7. Emotion grows out of conflict. In our lives, and in our character’s lives, when do we get most emotional? When the stakes are high. That conflict can be internal or external, but you have to show your readers the character’s emotional reaction to what happens to them. Otherwise your characters are just chess pieces you’re moving around your story board, and who cares when the rook falls? (Seriously, if you didn’t read Tiffany’s blogs, go read them now.)
Do you have some golden lines to share from a class or lecture? Or maybe a quote that keeps you writing?