50 Shades of Green

I’m finally into a draft of my latest work. Let’s say I’m approaching the quarter mark of the story. It’s an interesting point in the book to be in. Arguably it’s a critical point in any novel. The first quarter should contain at least one highly dramatic plot point and it should be a time to really get to know your main characters. This has been the case with this work. The second chapter contained a surprising plot point and for the last half dozen chapters there has been adjustment to that moment and a growing of the characters. In saying that, it can be easy to lose the reader right here. In that time that you grow your main characters there must be fluid narrative and little moments that move it along.

There are of course many genre’s out there. When I give these tidbits of info my methods may or may not fit with your area of expertise and the genre you write in. But bear in mind that this will work for some. At the very least you may be able to apply some of these ideas. Let’s look at a couple of genres and I’ll show you what I mean.

If you want to get published you are probably writing to a template. The template being, those books you see in the New York Times bestseller list and emulating those techniques. A typical bestselling suspense novel will have a series of dramatic moments at the very beginning to get the reader interested. If it is a cross border thriller these moments may come again and again, one after the other and not let up until the end. These are often dubbed ‘page turners’ and the two main techniques used to get the reader turning pages are: 1. To have many plot points and 2. Shorter chapters.

The more plot points you have the greater the sense of complexity when you are reading. If these points have high drama i.e. shootings, chases, death, murder and escapes then the pages will keep turning. The other thing to think about is your chapter length. Bestselling suspense novels often have shorter chapters. This could be because of the great number of plot points but also retains this idea of pace throughout the novel. Shorter chapters also give the reader a sense of momentum when they read as if they’re carving through vast swathes of text. When writing your novel, carefully consider your chapter length at a structural level and try to imagine how the reader would respond to changes and where pace could be increased. A simple examination of pace may vastly improve your novel.

How many ways can you say 'green'?

How many ways can you say ‘green’?

Another genre that’s on my mind right now is historical fiction. This is where the writer researches a time and place that they identify with to a very detailed level and set their story there. These times and places can often emote a real escape in the reader as they place themselves there. With this in mind the writer captures the reader’s imagination with the setting. This requires a strong and descriptive narrative and a lot of detail. To some extent you could say that I am currently writing historical fiction but without the huge emphasis on getting every little fact right. After all, the time I am writing about was a time when the Irish did not write at all. Their language was spoken and the Celtic culture was very much observed by early Christian scribes. It’s tricky but in the case where those details cannot be found, it is simply about creating a realistic model of what things could have been like. The housing, the land, the traditions and customs. Small things like this can grow your story. Once you have this model, it is the strength of the narrative that will get you through.

I have reached a point where the plot points will ramp up again now the novel is well and truly set. It has been difficult at times to adapt to the simplicity of life in Ireland some 1800 years ago. When you think about it the people of that time were so intrinsically linked to nature that something as simple as the colour green becomes very important. It seems that colour’s role in the story becomes more and more critical as I move through the chapters. With that in mind it doesn’t hurt to add to your research. Instead of using the word ‘green’ fifty times, I have reached a point where I must teach myself fifty different shades of green for fear of losing the reader.

While detail is important my final piece of advice is simply not to overcomplicate your narrative. If you take two pages to describe what someone looks like or the colour of the sea on a particular day, those tense plot points may never arrive. Learn how to describe a character with one distinguishing feature and describe two or three colours with one word. Let your reader use their imagination at some point and it’s no harm if they have to pick up a dictionary once or twice.

Here are some shades of green: Chartreuse (Yellow-Green), Asparagus (hint of grey), Teal (Lots of Blue), Olive, Honeydew, Forest, Lime…the list is endless or you could just write the word ‘green’ fifty times.

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