Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Monday, January 14, 2013

On Craft: Rise Up Writers! Take Your Reader on the Ride of Their Life!

It's time to get tough, folks.  No more whimpering about your query being rejected or that your request for the full from your dream agent went down the tubes.  It's time to write like a champ. Put on your game face.

But don't take my word for it, take the words of Samuel L. Jackson and pretend he's talking to you about your would-be writing career, and maybe in a few minutes, you'll see why I feel writing is very much like the game of football.

In our world as writers, there aren't any trophies for participation.  No contract is offered for mediocrity.  Not in our league.  Hell no.

But if you're willing to hang in there, fight for every word and chapter, you can win.

So buckle up buttercup, it's time to make it all happen.  Are you with me?

And what's winning for a writer you might ask?  Is it nailing the million dollar deal?  Or is it the chance to tell your story, the greatest story you can muster, to the world?  I'll leave that very personal answer to you.

Now let's move on and learn how we can improve our writing game, and trust me, it is very very much like a football game.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about me and how I developed this love for football.  As you know, I reside in the great state of Georgia and yesterday our N.F.L. Team, the amazing Atlanta Falcons, won a massive battle and will continue their fight for the Super Bowl title.  But here's something you might not know about me.  I've stood in the very center of the field in the Super Dome in New Orleans and performed both pre-game and halftime shows as the featured twirler for my college, and also performed  for two Saints pre-games and halftimes.  I know what it's like to hear the crowd roar and then for everything to go silent as you make your first move under the blaring lights.  I've watched many a college and two pro games from the sidelines, and I simply  I love the adrenaline rush of football and competition is in my blood.

Down south where I reside, Football is a way of life, and in fact, I'm a football mom to a fierce fourteen year old linebacker and tight-end.  That being said, I guess it's no wonder I write thrillers, because every fall during football season, I feel like I'm living smack-dab in the middle of one, because my heart leaps into my throat every time my son's team takes the field.  And for me, writing my first manuscript was much like the feeling I got when my son ran for his first touchdown last spring.  It also felt like the moment when I stood in the center of the field at the Super Dome performing for an N.F.L. halftime.  Surreal.  Was I really doing this?  Everything went quiet, and then I heard the sound of my fingers begin to pound the keyboard as I wrote the first action-packed scenes in my would-be book, and I knew I had to begin with a bang.  Or as my critique partners know all too well, it would instead begin with the threat of a bang and a few shots of scotch.

And yesterday's game made me love the sport of football even more, as a nail-biter for the ages unfolded before my eyes.  A clash of two titan-like teams took the field in Atlanta, but there would only emerge one victor.

Now I can imagine you're reading this post right now and shaking your head thinking,  "How the heck is she going to be able to pull off comparing football to novel writing?"  Well, bear with me and read on,  as I hope this post will inspire you to realize that the plot we weave is just like the game, and that our readers are like the fans in the stadiums, and we as writers, are the coach calling those plays.

So when beginning our manuscripts, we need to make the plot leap onto the pages with intrigue and action.  Kind of like this video from the game on Sunday.  Incidentally, my hubs & son were there, and they loved how it all began. There was plenty of swagger, hype, and cool flames shot up into the air as the starting lineup was announced.  This my friend, is your chapter one.  You hook the reader and bring them into the game.  It is your first challenge.

Next comes the meat of the story, and we try to make our characters become real to our readers and we present and set up the conflict,  then strategically place stumbling blocks in front of our protagonists so they're challenged at every turn.  Although sometimes it's okay to give our readers a few nice, happy, short scenes to lull them into feeling false security, we must remember our job as writers to not let them sit too long in their happy place, and start throwing those  challenges and dangers right back at the characters all over again.

And as our characters march forward towards the end, they find themselves up against their greatest challenge yet, and they meet the villain head-on and take their last stand.

How can you do this strategically?  Easy-peasy.  Make it seem all is lost for them, and then when you can't possibly think it's possible, you allow the characters to summon from within an inner strength or hand them the perfect weapon so they can beat the bad guy or win the girl in the end.  This concept works great for thrillers, romances, and just about every genre, if you think about it.

In fact, it's just like this next clip below, where we watch the last few seconds of the game.  As the clip begins, we see the Atlanta fans in the stadium in a state of almost disbelief as their team is losing with only mere seconds left in the game.  The quest for the Big Ring is over.  All is lost.  Or is it?

The spectators are eerily quiet (which is a rarity at the Georgia Dome) and subdued.  Their gridiron heroes aren't going to make it.  But suddenly, out of nowhere, Tony Gonzalez intercepts the ball and turns it all around, and time stands still as Matt Bryant kicks a Hail-Mary field goal.

In those tense milliseconds from when the ball was kicked until it soared through the goalposts we waited.  Our hearts in our throats.  Would we score or would we lose?  It was all or nothing.

Wouldn't it be awesome to let our readers experience that same kind of rush?

Now my dear hubs & son were at the game, but I watched this drama unfold from home and I was glued to the television holding my breath with crossed fingers in those last seconds.

I bit my lower lip watching the kick, then the milliseconds of silence, and then jumped with joy and screaming myself along with millions.  

In these next two clips, the fan reaction is universal to the excitement that unfolded in these last crucial seconds.  You see the Georgia Dome, and then the reaction at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and then at a neighborhood bar in Buckhead.  Even in my quiet little piece of suburbia, horns began to honk and celebratory fireworks were shot into the air.

But then something curious happened after the game as Falcons fans everywhere had to sit down and catch their breath.  As a medical chick, I know for a fact as my heart rate went through the roof.  With such a wild ride at the end, our emotions had run high.  I actually began to cry after watching this clip of the amazing Tony Gonzalez who was overcome with emotion and was crying with joy after his hard-fought win.

We all had to have that moment of emotional release, where our pulse would slow down and perhaps a tear fell from the corner of our eyes.  For me it came, and you know what?  It felt good.  We need to give this to our readers at the end of our story.  That fantastic, intangible emotional release.

So let's sum up this lengthy post down into a few easy steps.

How to take your readers on a wild ride:

1) Our readers want to see the excitement and tension build. You can make the feelings build slowly, or you can pile it on.  It's up to you and is dependent upon the pacing of the book and your specific plot. Make it good, make it believable.  And remember from my earlier posts to you, that making everything believable is key.

2)Throw stumbling blocks in front of your protagonists.  Make them sweat bullets as the story unfolds, and if you can make the action and plot seem real enough, the reader will be sweating right along with them. 

3)And then when it seems all is lost for our poor main characters, we give them the chance for that Hail-Mary pass or kick, and the day is saved.

4)Bring your readers to a fulfilling emotional close at the end of our manuscript and even if it's a sequel and has a cliffhanger type ending, still allow for that moment of resolution. Allow for reflective moments about the plot.  Make readers think about the story they've invested so many hours in reading.  Give your story a deeper meaning and heartfelt emotion at this most critical point and they'll be yearning for more.

Again, like football, we want our readers to be like the fans in the stadium on any given Sunday.  Sometimes they'll stand up and cheer, other times they'll hold their breaths after a decisive play, but sometimes they will be weeping with either sadness or joy after looking at the scoreboard.

As for me, I envision my readers standing and cheering at the end of the book, then hope they experience a deep emotional resolution after the action ends.

In closing this is all I have to say.  The post has been too damned long already.  So what are you waiting for?  You've been pounding on the doors, waiting for your chance. But we know what Soul & Sweet Tea Writers do when faced with a great challenge, don't we?  What do we do?  We rise up!

Now get going.  You've got a manuscript to finish.


T.J. said...

Great post! From one football fan to another. :)

Joey Francisco said...

Thanks T.J. I am glad you enjoyed it. :) Love your blog too btw.

Alan said...

Super post! You may consider adding motivational speaker to your resume. Glad I ventured over from AgentQuery Connect.

Joey Francisco said...

Thank you Alan! The way I see it, us becoming better writers is a win/win for everybody. End result will be better books and more creativity for all.

AQC did so much to help me get my head on straight as a writer, that now I want to give back.