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.
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.
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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