Guest Blogger: Katie Ganshert
Often, I’ll read a book that has an amazing story, but bland prose. Other times I’ll read a book that has breathtaking prose, but a so-so story.
If it’s the first, I swallow the book in a day, smile, and move on.
If it’s the second, I nibble the book in tiny bits, admiring the writing yet unmotivated to turn the pages.
The best kind of books—the books I remember long after finishing the last page—are the ones with both. A captivating story driven by beautiful prose.
That’s the sweet spot. Those are the books I love to read. Those are the kind of books I aspire to write.
So today, I wanted to share a 2-3 punch. Two ways we can improve our stories at the macro level (story), and three ways we can improve our stories at the micro level (prose).
What’s at stake for the main character? Why does it matter? And how can we make it matter more? Not just for the people in our books, but for the people reading our books.
It’s what keeps people turning pages. No matter what genre, something has to get in the way. Do we have a conflict that will sustain an entire novel? Are we making this conflict as big as it can be? Is there both internal conflict (something inside the protagonist) and external conflict (circumstances beyond the protagonist’s control)?
This means taking time to find the right word, getting rid of the unnecessary ones (“that” is almost always disposable), and being as specific as possible (instead of your character driving a car, have him drive a Geo Metro or a Hummer).
Nix the clichés. But don’t be so obsessed with being fresh and clever that the writing distracts from the story. It’s a fine line, but a good critique partner should be able to help you find it.
This was a trick I learned from Margie Lawson. She calls it backloading. According to Margie, backload is, “taking the most important word in your sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter and placing it at the end.”
So simple, but it adds a really nice punch.
I read Into the Free recently, a debut novel by Julie Cantrell. I devoured the book in two days. Couldn’t put it down. The story was captivating. The prose was stunning. Julie Cantrell hit the sweet spot. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the book made it onto several prestigious best seller lists.
Are you naturally inclined to focus more on story or prose? What tips do you have for improving at these two levels?
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Katie Ganshert is the author of the debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter, releasing from Waterbrook Multnomah this month. Katie was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she’s not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels. She and her husband are in the process of adopting from the Congo. You can find her online at her blog and on Facebook.
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