Has your story got juice? Does every sentence make us want to keep reading? If not, is there a vitamin you can take to cure the problem?
According to Stephen King, there is a vitamin that will cure the story blahs—it’s Vitamin V. King’s advice about using vigorous verbs is top-shelf stuff, and when applied, it can quickly up the muscle factor of any story.
Happily, there are even more ways to tap the V in vigorous. Incorporating any of the following suggestions will increase readers’ desire to pay attention to each word on the page. Combine these, and the energy of your story will take off, without changing the story itself. Readers may even stay up all night to finish the book.
Jump in the deep end of POV – The deeper the point-of-view, the more entwined the readers get with our characters. Do POV right, and the story starts to feel like it's happening to them--our readers hearts are pounding, blood zooming, hair raising, bumps chilling. Think of POV as a fishing hook--the deeper you drop it, the more readers are hooked. The example below is from my fourth novel, Chasing Free. I wrote it the first way, then challenged myself to deepen the POV. Not only did it improve the paragraph, it put a smile on my face and inspired the last short sentence in the second example.
‘Regular’ POV: The fragrant curtain lifted and he jerked against the ropes that bound him to the bed. Did she just carve a letter on him? He could feel the blood running on both sides of his neck and fought down the panic.
Deep POV: The fragrant curtain lifted and he jerked against the ropes tied to the bed posts. Did she just carve a letter on me? Blood ran on both sides of his neck and a surge of panic followed. How deep had she cut?
Unleash the unexpected – Readers love to be surprised, even in small ways. You don’t have to put surprises in every sentence, but try to work one into each chapter. It could be something as simple as your MC ordering a really weird drink or ice cream flavor; an unusual observation of something ordinary; an unforeseen plot twist; perhaps a spot of magic or ESP; a snappy unexpected comeback in dialogue; an unusual way of killing someone off.
Have some fun with this stuff. Make yourself giggle at giving readers a little jolt, a sip of the juice. Most of us aren’t getting paid nearly as much as we should be for the hundreds of hours spent writing, so we might as well find ways to make this toil fun. Authors who are rolling in the writing dough, well, it’s probably because their stories have juice and they’re having fun...all the way to the bank.
Include a purpose and B/M/E for physical movements – We use physical beats to break up narrative and dialogue, to ground the readers in the story, convey emotions and show action. But some physical beats get plugged in just because it seems like we should tell the reader things like, ‘He hurried to the door’.
Physical beats can add a lot to a story—but don’t miss out on the potential to double-dip. Are you showing your character hurrying to the door for a reason, other than someone's knocking on it? It’s a great opportunity to slip in a few words of internal thoughts in a natural way:
He hurried to the door, nerves bunching. Would she like the surprise or would it piss her off?
Okay, so you’ve got your double-dip reason for making the MC hurry to the door, but is that enough? Does your MC greet his visitor and off they go, straight into dialogue and the ‘moment’, or are you going to finish what you started and take us through this ‘mini scene’ like a camera would? Giving physical beats a complete beginning/middle/end draws the reader into the scene in a way that the ‘beginning’ movement can’t accomplish on its own. It also provides a natural way of transitioning from one paragraph to the next:
He hurried to the door, nerves bunching. Would she like the surprise or would it piss her off? The door swung open faster than he’d intended, catching his bare toes. Sophia’s wince of sympathy only increased the pain in his foot.
“Thanks for coming over.” He stepped back to let her in then closed the door. Her shy smile made him forget the sting in his toes.
Cut the ‘ly’ words – Using vigorous verbs to describe action will alleviate the urge to use ‘ly’ words. Does this mean you should never use an ‘ly’ word? No. It means use them sparingly and wisely—and only when you’re sure no other word works better.
Weak: She closed the door loudly.
Vigorous: She slammed the door.
Eliminate – We’ve all read the pundits’ advice: Eliminate unnecessary words and passive voice. No matter how many books we’ve written, we have to stay on the lookout for these juice-depleters. It’s like eating healthy – it requires constant vigilance and a firm resolve. These pests are like body weight – so dang easy to put on and a lot of work to take off.
I Googled the words ‘Story Juice’. Up popped links to a book with the same title. Of course I had to check it out. The book’s authors, Julie Fuoti and Lisa Johnson, write about ‘how ideas spread and brands grow’. It’s interesting that their underlying principal of what makes this happen is storytelling
on a corporate level. How cool is that? The first section of their book starts with the following statement and points. You can access their free
book at: http://www.storyjuicing.com/
Storytellers know how to accelerate brand growth and spread ideas because of their ability to:
1. Motivate people to pay attention
2. Inspire people to action
3. Bring data to life and make it relevant to people’s daily lives
4. Make information memorable, repeatable, and easy to spread.
5. Shape new beliefs and change minds
6. Raise money
7. Gather and unite an authentic community
Fuoti and Johnson are referencing the impact of having ‘stories’ behind company products, resulting in these points above and greatly increased sales. It’s interesting to see how these same points relate to our novels in a very circular way. I especially like number six. Number seven makes me think of Stephenie Meyer and her Twihards, Lee Child and his Reacher Creatures.
So how do we, the way-smart fun-loving storytellers of the world, manage to pull off the above? We write vigorously.
Author of Finding Round