What colours your writing and takes it from mundane to memorable?

You know what it can be like, driving through a winter landscape. There’s not a lot to see, but you’ve decided to make the trip, so you keep plowing ahead and eventually get to the destination.

“Mmm,” you might say, stretching road-weary muscles as you climb out of the vehicle. “What a long drive!”

“How was the trip?” a friend or family member will ask.

“Good, thanks… uneventful. It snowed a bit over the pass, but the roads were fine.”

Someone is bound to ask if you saw any game along the way, or stopped to take in any interesting sights. Unless something significant sticks out in your mind, you’ll probably not remember many details… just a lot of sameness. You’re happy to have made the trip — it wasn’t unpleasant — but you’re glad to reach the end of it.

Snowed

Such was the case on the day I snapped the following photograph. A fine snow blew sideways all morning, sending whirlpools of white sliding across the pavement. Distant scenes were pretty much obliterated and everything was dusted into a grey and white monotony. I didn’t take note of much, but I distinctly recall the stark contrast of the occasional orange-branched deciduous tree planted in various homesteads. I’m not sure what species it was, but the sight was memorable.

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge.)

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge.)

Reading a novel is very much like taking a trip. What  you remember about the experience — monotony or flashes of brilliant colour — depends upon the author’s skill.

In its writing, a story inevitably includes a certain amount of mundane action. It may be a transitional scene, or a means of showing necessary details of setting or characterization. But if nothing ever stands out as exceptional, a novel will be remembered (if it is remembered at all) as merely an “okay” read.

Nobody deliberately sets out to write a mediocre story, but it can happen all too easily as it progresses from one scene to another, from beginning, to middle, to end. Well planted plot twists, meaningful conflict, unique character(s), and distinctive settings help give a story colour and pull it out of the ordinary. So can well crafted writing.

If you haven’t read Donald Maass’s books on writing, I recommend them to you, especially WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. In it, Don shows “how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel—one that rises out of obscurity and hits the best-seller lists.” I don’t guarantee that best-seller bit, but following his suggestions can definitely put you on the road to being a better writer!

What makes a story memorable to you?

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5 thoughts on “What colours your writing and takes it from mundane to memorable?

  1. Mary Helen says:

    If you were here in Ontario right now, you would find driving through the snowy landscape especially memorable! e.g. How to keep the car on the road! I’m not doing any writing these days, but your blogs are heightening my reading pleasure. Thanks.

  2. Great topic, Carol. I raised a similar version in one of my earlier posts on the 5 writers blog, and I think I can best answer your question by quoting from that post (sorry to be lengthy):

    I believe a skilled author hooks readers with symbolic details that reinforce the plot and give it longevity. One such memorable book for me is The Stone Carvers by Canadian author Jane Urquhart. This beautiful novel spans three decades, moving from a German-settled village in Ontario to Europe after the Great War. It’s the story about the carvers of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial against the backdrop of war. What makes the book so powerful are the exquisite details, the settings, and the characters, far larger than life. I read the book when it came out ten years ago. I still see the image of the scarlet cloth, from which Klara Becker tailored a magnificent waistcoat for her ill-fated lover Eamon. She was bewildered by his choice of colour, but Eamon insisted on bright red. ‘A bolt of fine red worsted material’, shipped from Montreal. A foreboding on the eve of the war. A warning that blood will be spilled.’

    Thanks also for the fabulous photos, Carol!

  3. Darlene says:

    So true. Just a splash of colour and it changes everything. Children in particular love some colour. I must remember this. Donald Maass’s books are very good and worth a reread from time to time..

  4. What a beautiful photo, Carol! The muted shades, the depth, the dark red color of the home nestled in the center. I clicked to enlarge, as suggested.

    What makes a story memorable for me? I think I remember characters more than plot, although without a plot, who would keep reading? Yes, characters. For instance, I have read the series written by Sue Grafton over many years. The one constant in each book is the main character and several others that are always knitted into the stories, peripherally, giving her a life of her own outside of her job as a detective. The plots do not fail to surprise, but it’s still the characters, including the new ones introduced in each story, that carry it on for me.

    You have sparked a desire in me to put a Donald Maass book on writing on my Kindle. Blessings to you, Carol…

  5. Carol says:

    Thanks for your comments on this topic. I certainly agree with Carol Ann when it comes to having a memorable character reappear throughout a series. If a main character isn’t special enough to be remembered, or for me to care about him/her, I’m not likely to pick up the next book in the series.

    Helga, I’ve read The Stone Carvers, too, but have to admit I don’t recall that red fabric and waistcoat! :o But symbolism can definitely enrich a story.

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