Freelance writer Lucy Faraday is back guest posting again today with a post on secrets for an unforgettable novel (you may remember her recent guest post on Poor Man’s Copyright).
Storytelling Secrets to Make Your Novel Unforgettable
If you’re an author you’ve likely been given countless tips and techniques to make your stories really shine. The reality is that there are (unfortunately) no magic wands that you can simply wave to create the next Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire series. There are, however, a few well-kept secrets that many authors already employ without some people even realising it. These concepts, ideas, and tips help to keep a story not only going along at a lightning pace, but also keep the readers glued to the pages, eager to know what happens next. The aim is to keep your readers laid back and glued to their seat desperate to continue reading simply by creating characters and situations that really bring your story to life. And it’s probably much easier than you think. So without further ado, here are the storytelling secrets you need to make your next novel truly unforgettable.
Collect interesting names
One of the biggest challenges facing authors is naming their characters. Some writers are able to simply pluck them out of the air and have them sound great first time, but others need to take a little more time over it. Many famous novels feature unforgettable character names (examples include Albus Dumbledore, Jon Gatsby, Tyrion Lannister, and so on). If you have a hard time generating memorable character names on the spot, here’s a handy tip: keep a notepad (or your smartphone) handy, and whenever you come across a good name in your day-to-day life, jot it down. Then, when you come to name your creations, you’ll never be at a loss for words.
Give your characters a signature
In order to leave a lasting impact on readers, writers need to make the characters as memorable as possible. Not just in terms of name as we discussed above, but also in their mannerisms and the way they talk. To make your characters really stand out, one good idea is to give each of them a signature of some kind. This could be a limp, an eye patch, a noticeable scar, a vocal tick – the list goes on. The aim is to make the reader feel like they really know a character and could recognise them anywhere. That way, your book will be much more memorable.
Give your readers mental landmarks
In much the same way as you’ll want to make characters recognisable, you may also do the same with setting and environment. For example, if you were writing a yarn about pirates and two of the characters were having a swashbuckling sword fight, would you simply place them on a ‘sandy beach’? If you do, your reader doesn’t have much to go on. But put them instead on the edge of a cliff teetering above a rock formation that resembles a human skull and you’ve created an instantly memorable mental landmark. It’s things like this that turn a good book into a great one. Mental landmarks work anywhere, not just during action sequences. They allow readers to truly build the world in their mind, and their immersion in the story gets a boost at the same time.
As Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings”
William Faulkner was one of the proponents of the great American novel, and he was also a font for writing knowledge. One of his most famous quotes is “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” – but what does this mean for modern authors? Well, simply put, it means that you mustn’t become too heavily attached to characters. If you do, your story runs the risk of becoming stale. By building up a character and really falling for them, then dealing them a fatal blow, you’ll throw a spanner in the works and create tense moments that will remain with your readers forever. If you need any tips on how best to eliminate characters that you may have spent hundreds of pages creating, take a leaf out of George RR Martin’s book. In A Song of Ice and Fire, he kills more main characters than we can count!
So there you have it: just a handful of ways you can make your next book unforgettable. The same rules apply whether you’re writing a 1000-page tome or a short story, so don’t feel like you have to write a novel to try these out. With a little work, and a little effort, you’ll find your writing (and the immersion it offers readers) will only grow in time.
2 thoughts on “Storytelling Secrets to Make Your Novel Unforgettable (Guest Post)”
Great suggestions, Lucy. Easy to follow and they all make sense. I can remember some of the character names of novels I’ve read because they stand out, like Katniss, Genly Ai and Scout, but for the life of me I can’t remember the character’s name in Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden even though I loved that novel.
I’m going to make a list of my favourite novels to see if I can remember the signatures and landmarks—I think you’re on to something. 🙂
As for killing darlings, I just recognised one in a short story I drafted earlier this year and it’s going to hurt me more than the character to cut it … By the way, did you mean ‘Jay’ Gatsby or is there a ‘Jon’ I should know about?
I think she meant Jay Gatsby 😉