My given name is Zoe, derived from the ancient Greek for life. As a girl, fascinated with words, I came across zoetic in an old dictionary. A rare or archaic word with the same derivation as my name, zoetic means living or vital. Also from the same derivation is zoetrope, the Victorian toy you see below.
Words on the page, of themselves, are little more than patterns of ink on paper and can be just as dry to read. Like a zoetrope, my aim as a writer and editor is to give life and vitality to black squiggles. Words ought to sparkle, shine, and move me to laughter or tears before I send them out into the world. There I want them to sing and dance in the mind and imagination of readers.
How could I call my business anything but Zoetic Words?
In my humble opinion, empathy is very important for a writer. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of each of your characters. The ability to ‘be’ them, one after the other, is a definite advantage when it comes to writing down convincing descriptions of the internal workings of those characters and eliciting the emotions you want from readers.
Readers love well rounded characters, realistically flawed, motivated and human. We love to see them overcome impossible odds and get their well deserved just deserts. It gives us hope that we too can fine our happily ever after.
In all aspects of my life I firmly believe I can always learn something from everybody if I keep my eyes open and my mind receptive to learning. Nowhere it this more true than when it comes to writing and editing. Writing is an art which must be learned and practiced.
How do we imbue our words with power? By knowing what we want to say and using the most powerful words in our vocabulary to say it. Pare your prose down to the bare minimum required to convey your message. Read, read, read and analyse what you read, whether to learn how to write powerfully, or how to avoid weakening your words. Strengthen your vocabulary and your writing skills.
Learn from other writers, join local writer’s groups, state, national or international associations, research whatever you need to in reputable books, do courses, attend seminars and conferences. Invest in yourself and your art, then put it all into practice.
Much emphasis has rightly been given to hooking the reader in the first chapter. With so many choices, it has been said that you have 30 seconds to get readers emotionally involved with the characters and the story.
However, do not underestimate the importance of the final chapter for, selling the next book is it’s job. How does it accomplish that? By leaving the reader completely satisfied, moved. Think back to a book which, when you read the last page, affected you deeply. I remember wanting to go back and start again. Then going out to see what else the author has written. That is resonance.
How do you create this kind of ending? Take out your favourite books, the one which affected you most deeply. Read the ending again, taking careful note of what you feel. Then read it again, this time taking note of how that feeling was created. What was it about the writing that affected you so much? Practice ways to evoke that same feeling from your readers.
What sparks your passion? Your readers often have the same passion and setting light to it keeps them satisfied and coming back to buy your books.
Decide what it is you want to evoke from your reader. Then fire your own feelings up, surprise yourself. Make yourself love, sing, dance, laugh, cry, grieve, gasp, shudder and scream. Make your heart race. Give yourself goosebumps. Make yourself so angry you want to punch something. Live your story. Feel every emotion as if you are each one of your characters.
Why? Because the odds are high that if you don’t feel those emotions, your readers won’t either. Find that unexpected match that triggers those emotions in yourself and odds are you will trigger them in your reader too.
Raymond Chandler was one of the first of the detective fiction writers. A collection of four LA PI Philip Marlowe books is still available under the name “Trouble Is My Business”. Isn’t that a great description of a writer’s job! Readers love to see their favourite characters get themselves out of trouble. Finding the right trouble to put your particular character into is the trick.
Getting your protagonist into trouble can be done in many ways. Trouble can come in the form of nature, society, aliens, the supernatural, villians, technology, the rest of mankind.
Trouble can happen when another person wants the same thing, what your protagonist has, wants to do your protagonist harm, or wants to murder him or someone he loves and so on.
Trouble can also be internal, in your protagonist’s mind or heart. He or she may have conflicting goals, values, desires, instincts and on it goes.
The worse the trouble you torture your characters with, the more heroic they need to be to overcome it and the more your readers will love them. So, what are you waiting for? Go get someone into deep trouble.