I know, I know – you’re thinking, “This is another one of those writer-advice blog posts, where he tells me I need an attractive cover, an enticing blurb, fleshed-out characters, and blah blah blah. I’ve read enough of these things!”
Rest assured, frazzled reader – this isn’t that kind of post. I’m not going to throw stale content at you. This list will be wacky, unscientifically tested, dynamic, and super-fun – guaranteed!
So, let’s scrub the moss off that rock over there and get it rolling….
1. Have a character hiss
“Hiss” may be the best dialogue tag in existence. It conjures up snakes, baby-sacrificing witches, fey seductresses, your girlfriend when she’s in a foul mood. Venom, anger, dastardliness – it’s all there.
The pedantic among us will say that a normal human being doesn’t hiss when speaking. “How is it possible to sound like a snake and talk simultaneously?” they ask.
Well, technically it’s pretty difficult, but this is fiction writing. People don’t talk in grammatically correct, flowing-like-a-river sentences either, and yet dialogue in novels is expected to be polished, without the constant “uhs” and “ums” that litter normal conversation. As authors, we’re expected to create engrossing stories, not replicate reality down to the last banality.
Besides, the dictionary definitions of “hiss” make it clear that applying the word to human speech is totally legit. So there – Merriam-Webster and whoever else is in the dictionary business has spoken.
While I’m on the topic of dialogue tags, I’d like to raise a rebellious fist against those who say authors should stick to “said” as a tag. There’s nothing wrong with having a character grimace, moan, murmur, etc., provided you don’t overdo it. Throw in a “s/he growled” or a “s/he raged” every now and then – spice it up.
2. Have someone get slapped
There’s something personal about a slap. You can have your characters get punched, body slammed, or blasted with dark energy beams, and it still won’t have the “oh, that’s damn harsh” resonance of a well-delivered slap. Think about it: if someone is capable of slapping someone else, they’re capable of punching them – but they opt for a slap, because the slap-receiver is a peon, and needs to be put in their place.
When your Dark Lord has your Noble Paladin tied to the Alter of Blood Sacrifice, don’t have him strike his captive with his Void Staff, at least not at first. Have him slap him. It’ll send an unmistakable message to both the poor Paladin and your readers.
Should you portray a female character getting slapped by a man? Well, the Hardcore Feminists will likely go to DEFCON 1 and bombard you with shaming hashtags – unless you’re a female author, in which case you’ll likely be congratulated for “shining a light on heinous patriarchy-inspired behavior” – but that shouldn’t stop you from letting a well-time novelistic slap jolt your readers. Ignore the sensitive snowflakes and do what’s right for your story.
3. Have some sex
A lot of people have sex in real life, so your characters should have sex. Having your fictional constructs orbit each other for 300 pages, with passion simmering like Kingsford Match Light charcoal pieces, and then making it so they only get in a quick lip-lock before the Climactic Battle is…well, OK, I get the point: they’re too busy saving the world/realm/universe/dimension to roll around in the hay (literally, if it’s a medieval fantasy), but please, give us something! Have secondary characters copulate if you want to save your main characters for the Budding Romance.
You don’t even have to go into detail if you don’t want to. Simply make it clear that passion is about to erupt, and fade to black. Rejoin the lovebirds after their night(s)/day(s) of conjugal bliss. (Note: obviously does not apply to romance or erotica writers.)
4. Have a badass stoic character, or BSC (my invented acronym)
Everyone loves the BSC because they all want to be him/her. Mostly silent – totally tough – usually with a dark past that they never talk about. Too busy being stoic. Everyone bothers them, tries to get in their emotional space, but they ain’t got time for that shit. Too busy being stoic.
The BSC takes on a bar-full of drunken men/women/space aliens, beats ’em to a pulp, and then walks out into the chill night with nary a word. The BSC will listen to someone babble for half a minute, then destroy their self-esteem with one hard pithy sentence.
Can you have a BSC in literary fiction? Sure. Make him the war veteran uncle who’s always going into the wilderness to hunt something. Make him the aloof-yet-somehow-still-dangerous kid who even the high school bullies are afraid of. Make her the nurse who’s seen it all, who’s more efficient than the pedigreed doctors around her, but whose bedside manner is a bit lacking, because too busy being stoic. Possibilities abound.
5. Have a sunset
Sunsets are beloved by all but the most hard-hearted. Sunrises are good too, but most people are still asleep when the yellow orb peeks above the horizon. Us humans and our sleep patterns….
Have your characters hold hands and watch the robust colors play out across the sky. Have the battle-scarred warrior look upon the dusk and say wearily, “Darkness descends. Our forces will not survive the night, unless help arrives from the east.” Have the grown man watch a sunset, and remember the kid he once was playing catch with his dad, when the sunsets were brighter and bigger because everything is brighter and bigger when you’re a kid.
The imagery and themes connected to sunsets are well known, and are awesome. Use them.
And with that, the sun is about to set on this post. See what I did there?
That’s it – five random things, some big, some very, very small, that’ll make your novel more awesome. Of course, there are exceptions: if you’re writing a novel about a sunless world of monkish, pacifistic aliens with no hands who communicate via pictograms, none of these will apply.
These are just the opinions of one man, but at last count there were twenty other people like me in the world, so this advice does have some scope.
How else can one inject awesomeness into their stories? Do you disagree with any of my items? Write comments!