This post is Part 3 of a series, and although you can get something out of it by itself, it is third in a series for a reason, so I highly recommend reading Parts 1 and 2 first. Again, let me remind you of my definition of crafting: the continual process of using every resource and skill you have to grow and shape a satisfying story.
In my last blog, I left you with some broad tips to begin your crafting process. If you follow those tips and only those tips, you will have a good story. But, if you want to go deeper and craft a great story, then you must understand, build, and master the subtle connections within your story.
Plot is a picture; connections make that picture either look like a sketch or a masterpiece, with every line perfected, every shadow in place, every color chosen intentionally. Connections tell a deeper story than just the barebones plot, and if you want your story to be a masterpiece, then you cannot leave it like a sketch.
The points I discuss below will help you understand connections, but only practice will help you build them, and only time will help you master them. Think of your own story while reading this. If you don’t have a story that’s finished, then think of a story you love and relate these points to that story. Keep these connections in your mind when writing and most importantly when reading other stories. I can’t tell you how much I have learned about writing from analyzing other well-crafted works. Make sure you do the same so you can craft your own connections when you’re ready.
Connection with Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is one of the most commonly heard of connections you can make in your story. It doesn’t have to come in an ominous prophecy; it could be (I would often argue that it should be) as subtle as an offhand comment that a character makes that actually happens later. Be careful not to make the foreshadowing awkward by trying to shove it in. Chances are it won’t feel natural to the reader, and it would be more like a neon sign of something to come instead of just a shadow hinting at it.
Connection with Characteristics
If one of your character’s physical characteristics is important to the story itself, mention it early on. Similarly, don’t just give your characters defining physical attributes if you’re not going to use them or mention them ever again. If your character has a scar, why not use it to your crafting advantage?
Connection with Setting
If a certain location is vital to the final action of the story, then try to find a way to have your characters visit that place earlier on in the story. Then you don’t have to introduce this brand new place and the final action at the same time; instead, you can just focus on the action. If your characters absolutely cannot visit that place earlier, then have them visit it through dialogue or memory or do something so that the final destination doesn’t seem to just come out of nowhere.
Connection with Plot
You want to avoid “well that’s convenient” plot elements. I fret over this the most in my own work, probably because a lot of my characters have magic, and magic is, well, convenient. It doesn’t matter that I’ve thrown in limitations for the magic (though that does help), that I know how it works, that I’ve thought of all the rules, and that however I’m using it at the moment, however convenient, it does indeed fall within the rules. I still have times when it feels too convenient to solve this particular problem with magic.
Here’s how I generally get around this. If I need a certain aspect of the magic to solve a problem in chapter ten, I do my best to introduce that aspect or hint at it somewhere in chapter one through seven (anything from eight through ten would feel a little too forced for my tastes). If at all possible, I actually use that aspect of magic on a less dire problem somewhere in those chapters. Then when the situation is dire, my readers are prepared and should be coming up with the solution as my characters do.
This goes for any major plot point. If it comes out of nowhere, especially toward the end of the book, then you need to go back and see how you can introduce that element earlier. Do your best to introduce your readers to your world using the elements that are important to the plot, and you’ll find your job gets a lot easier.
Connection with Repetition
Repetition is a powerful tool, and it’s easier for some people to use or see than others. It’s also easier for readers to see this than for authors. The trick to using repetition properly is knowing which phrases should be repeated. The phrase you intentionally repeat has to be different enough from the normal slew of English that it stands out. For me, the phrase is typically short and is somehow magnified by what’s going on in the scene. Then when I use the phrase later, either for someone else entirely or with the same person in a different situation, I have just created a connection. If I do it for a third time, the connection is even more defined.
Be wary of repeating phrases unintentionally. There is a difference between redundancy, which is something you don’t realize you’re doing during the writing process, and repetition, which is something you build into your story. The second is refined through crafting; the first needs to be taken out with editing (trust me—no matter how important the phrase seemed at the time of writing, if you have seven of it on one page, it needs to go…and yes, I got rid of all of them).
Connection with Association
Association is creating a connection between two separate things such that when you describe one, you are also describing the other. So, if you associate a particular character with the sun, then any time you describe the sun, you are also describing that character. Yes, you could just describe the character without using the sun, and it could be a beautiful description, but then you’re not letting the reader in on the subtext of the association, and you’re not creating intrigue.
You can also have chain associations. If you use the sun to describe a place and a person separately, then you are creating an indirect connection between that place and person. You can even create associations with action, where you associate a specific action with a phrase. Then if you use either the phrase or the action on its own, the reader knows you are talking about the other too.
Even if your readers don’t consciously see any of these connections, they will subconsciously take them in. If you’ve taken the time to craft these connections, you will leave the readers satisfied, even if they can’t tell you exactly why. A warning: if you do not craft the connections, your readers will be unsatisfied, even if they can’t tell you exactly why.
Do you see why intent is so important in all of this? You create connections while writing and might not even realize it. This is why it is vital for you to go back through your work with a magnifying glass and examine each connection you intended to make and discover the ones that cropped up without your notice. You need to determine if there are connections that you need to build from the ground up, refine, or demolish entirely, until you have one cohesive story: not the one you didn’t mean to tell but the one you intended to tell.
By Tracy Buckler
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Image credtis in order of appearance: Suat Eman, Serge Bertasius Photography, panuruangjan.