Cecilia Gray lives in Oakland where she reads, writes and breaks for food. She has written 7 books, the most recent of which (Fall for You) is the beginning of the young adult contemporary romance series, Jane Austen Academy. Two of her other novels: A Delightful Arrangement (The Gentlemen Next Door #1) and An Illicit Engagement (The Gentlemen Next Door #2) have spent time on several romance bestsellers lists in Spain, Italy, the UK, and the USA.
I’m delighted to have Cecilia here today to discuss some writing tips as part of the AToMR tour celebrating her newest book, Fall for You.
Dieting has never worked for me. The second you tell me what I can’t eat, it’s all I can think about is eating it. No carbs? I’ll eat a pizza. No fat? I want bacon.
The same is true of writing. Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I’ll want to do it. No starting a story with a dream? I’ll give my heroine a 300-page nightmare.
Instead, I’d rather focus on should I should be doing.
I should be eating more vegetables and lentils. I should be going organic. I should be eating nonfat yogurt.
Here are my writing “you-shoulds”:
- You should draw the reader in by posing a question.
I don’t mean an obvious question-with-a-question mark. I mean a sentence that begs a question, any question.I was listening to the new Maroon 5 song and the first line is, “I’m at a payphone trying to call home all of the change I spent on you.” The sentence brings up all kinds of questions. Who is he trying to call? Why is he trying to call them? Where in sweet hell did he find a payphone? Even though I know nothing about the situation in the song, I sympathize with the singer, because he’s desperately trying to reach someone and I know the feeling.Your first sentence should engage the reader to question what is happening, and more improtantly, to care about what is happening.
- You should force the reader to set their own stage.
This is a fancy way of saying show don’t tell, and the reason it works because it switches the reader from reading passively to reading actively, and if a reader is more actively drawn into a story, they have more stakes in the outcome.
“She was sad” says less than “She fought the sting of tears at the corners of her eyes.” (Apologies for both sentences being pretty lame….)
Both beg the question, why is she crying. But the second also makes you realize she doesn’t want to be crying, that she is desperate not to cry, which adds depth and dimension to her emotional state.
- You should invite the reader to complete their own story.
Consider the following endings (my apologies for any spoilers):
– Life of Pi when the veracity of Pi’s story is thrown into doubt and you must decide whether he was really in a boat with a tiger or a man who murders his mother
– The ending of Inception when you must decide whether the hero has found happiness with his family or is trapped in a coma
– Before Sunrise or Before Sunset when you have to decide whether the couple will stay together – and whether it’s the right decision
– The Giver when you must decide what journey the hero takes
These stories have powerful endings precisely because their resolution depends on the reader.
This doesn’t absolve you of telling a satisfying story, but consider whether the satisfaction really comes from tying up every loose end. Is there a thread better left untold? Is there a question you want to leave for your reader?
All three Do’s have one thing in common: reader engagement. Each Do is a way of waking up your reader, forcing your reader to read deeper, asking your reader to care more, think more, do more.
Getting your reader to do more is more work for you, but if you’re stressing about it – you could always eat a pizza.
Thanks, Cecilia! Stop by the tour schedule and visit the other tour stops to read reviews of Fall for You, more guest posts, book excerpts, and other cool things!