Spread Your Wings… Write Your Book!
How to Bring Your Story to Life
Glenna Mageau, Award Winning Author, Speaker, The Write Success Coach
A great idea that falls flat on paper
Don’t you love when you get an idea for a story or a book? It sounds good, it gets you excited so that you want start writing about it?
But then you sit down and start to write. You finally get some words on paper and think, yeah this is going to be great. Then you read through what you wrote and can’t believe it. It does not sound like that great idea that was floating around in your brain. It sounds flat. There’s no excitement, there’s no body, there’s just words on paper that are giving a hint at the idea just not in a very engaging way. It kind of sounds like that monotone voice that you want to shut off.
So what happened?
The cool thing with coming up with ideas and what makes them so exciting, is that in our mind we fill in all the details. So the idea is in full living, breathing color. We get the full picture—the colors, the smells, the textures, the emotion, the sounds, the big picture of it. We use all of our senses without even knowing it.
When we put this idea on paper we are putting down the concept. What we haven’t done is to fully flush out or flesh out the words that will build that idea into the living, breathing, colorful, emotional grabbing idea that we imagined.
As I talk about in this article, 3 Mindsets Key to Writing, the first draft is about getting the concept down on paper. It’s not about the big picture.
It can be discouraging.
It can be very frustrating and unfortunately, this is where many writers get discouraged. They don’t like what they’ve written, see themselves as a failure and tell themselves they aren’t a writer. So they quit, or struggle with writer’s block or move on to something else. That great idea is now just a burden they struggle with wondering why they had wanted to write it.
I know I went through a long phase of feeling like that and being very frustrated that I couldn’t make my writing pop. I couldn’t make it come to life. My writing sounded like, ‘the dragon was able to shoot flames from it’s mouth, scorching the earth’ rather than what I wanted it to sound like, ‘the intense, colorful flames shot out of the dragon’s mouth like a volcano erupting, scorching the earth as the beat of the dragon’s wings fanned the fires burning in it’s wake’.
It doesn’t sound like I imagined it would!
So what changed?
Thankfully, I’m a bit stubborn. I was determined to be a writer. I was not going to let the fact that I felt like my writing sucked and that I wasn’t a writer, stop me. I figured there had to be a way to get better at it. I took courses and reached out to many other writers and authors to learn from them.
The difference a word can make
The biggest thing I learned was not only to stick with writing but to look at what words I was using. It truly made all the difference to bringing my story to life and making it sound like it had when I came up with the idea.
Some words evoke a whole lot more than others do. If you’re story is falling flat, odds are you need to build on the visual, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the texture, the emotions that are evoked. Your words need to evoke that vision so the reader can ‘see’ your story.
“The first draft is the skeleton, the rewrite is the flesh.”
Let’s look at words and what difference they can make
When we come up with an idea, we have already filled in many details, so when we try to put that down on paper, we tend to focus on the concept of the story. We want all the details filled in but that isn’t where our focus tends to be. Or needs to be. When we start we really just need to get words down on paper, which is exactly what a first draft should be. We shouldn’t be focussing on trying to fill in all the details because then we lose track of where the idea was going. Your fingers can only move so fast but your brain can flip through ideas at lightning speed.
So once you have your idea down on paper, that’s when you go back and fill in the needed depth, color and body to your story. Leave the colorful story for the rewrites. Keep the first draft on telling a good story.
Let’s look at a few examples:
I walked into the room.
I sauntered into the room
I lumbered into the room
Each one of the words—walk, saunter, lumber—essentially means that someone is walking, however each conveys a very different visual, sound, feeling. A simple word can convey a whole different message.
What is enough, What is too much
The one thing to be careful of is putting too much visual and feeling. You might just lose the reader.
The red kite flew in the sky.
The blazing red kite bopped and weaved as the young boy ran hard so that it danced against the brilliant blue sky.
Now both are essentially saying the same thing but you get a very different idea of what is happening, right? Now the first one really doesn’t have enough information to really grab and hold someone’s attention. They’ll read it and move on, probably soon forgetting it. The second one, gives more detail and you get more of a sense of what is happening. It is almost too much detail but really depends on where you go with your next sentence. You wouldn’t want to add too much detail to the next part as you might overload your readers. I think I’d take out about the young boy and do another sentence with him. I’d keep the focus of that sentence on how the kite looked in the sky.
The blazing red kite bopped and weaved as it danced against the brilliant blue sky.
It not only gives a clear image but it gives motion and connects with something a reader may have seen or gives them enough that they can imagine it.
aim for the senses
Ensure your words belong together
One mistake I see quite frequently is that a writer will say something like, ‘the girl danced her way into the room and slammed her book onto the table’.
Danced tends to make you think that someone is happy, they feel good. Slammed tends to tell you the opposite, someone is not happy, they aren’t pleased. So the two don’t really go together… UNLESS, you put some qualifying information and some more details.
The girl danced into the room like a parrot on steroids and slammed her book onto the table.
Now you get that she might be a bit annoyed, making fun of dancing… Or it could convey that she was awkward and all of it was her way of stumbling in and accidentally slamming her book on the table. What you write next is important as it will fill in the details of what is really going on for her.
Dress it up
Let your first draft be, the clean, simple, plain story – the dressed down version. Once you have the first draft finished, read your story and look at what words will dress it up and give it that punch that will pull the reader in and keep them reading. You want to ensure that people aren’t just skimming over those important details that you want to grab them.
What do you need to add to your story so that it, dances on the single dew drop that clings to the rose’s delicate petal?