I’m going to use KAT INCORRIGIBLE as an example.
1. Let’s talk humor.
The kind of humor that pulls you from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, the kind that makes you fall in love with a character and the writing, the kind that make you want to read the book again in the same week.
For me, the best kind of humor is when the main character doesn’t know or think she’s being hilarious. For the character, the story is quite serious.
Here are only a few of the funnies from this story:
- The play on the tried and true plot of a girl dressing like a boy and running away – except it failed for Kat.
- The running gag of Kat always receiving long lectures.
- Kat’s willingness to speak her mind without being obnoxious.
- The scene where Kat turns herself into an older woman with a heaving bosom.
- The running gag of her constantly trying to arch one eyebrow like her older sisters.
(In your work if it’s not humor, it could be excellent description or well-chosen words to reflect voice or tension that leads your reader from page to page.)
2. Terrific ending chapter hooks.
Each chapter ending made me keep reading. Here are a few of them:
- I had the perfect opportunity for blackmail.
- Angeline opened her eyes and looked straight at me. “He murdered her.”
- “Miss Angeline,” he said. “Thank God I’ve found you. Your house has been burgled!”
- But what about the highwayman?” I said.
- The highwayman had arrived after all.
- The shot went off as the world turned inside out around me.
The others are great too but you wouldn’t understand the significance without reading the story.
3. Using specific body language that reflects the character.
How a writer uses body language can elevate a story from amateur to professional. In my unprofessional opinion that is. Here are a few:
- “Now,” Stepmama said, and ushered us, smiling as fiercely as a general, into the crowded Long Gallery.
- “Ladies!” The gentleman’s cough this time sounded like a crack of thunder.
- “None, obviously, that you are fit to learn.” She stalked pointedly away from both of us, her slim back vibrating with outrage.
There were plenty of shrugs, arched eyebrows, saids, – but when it counted, when the emotion was important to show, the body language was extended to show the character without telling and to reveal the emotion. In other words, it wasn’t overdone.
4. Historical fiction with a contemporary feel.
- Kat felt like a contemporary girl fighting for her family.
- She felt emotion like her readers would.
- She had relationships with her step mama and sisters that felt current.
- The only details from the period mentioned were the ones important to the story and it was never obvious. (Keep in mind that it was for middle graders.)
- The language used and behavior just made the book better and it upped the reading level, which to me is always a good thing.
- The historical part of the time period was used humorously, for examples, the long lectures for behavior that really wasn’t that bad.
(Even if you’re not writing historical fiction, you can work on creating emotions your reader can understand and connect with.)
5. The mix of external and internal conflict.
I would not have loved this story as much as I did without the balance of Kat’s internal conflict. She struggles with following her mama’s legacy and worries that the only reason her papa married her mama was due to a love spell.
Was this a literary novel with heavy theme and internals? No. But it had just the right balance of emotion and excellent writing.
What genre or kind of story are you writing? And what do you use on the page-to-page level to keep readers reading?
Laura, these are great tips! I would love to work more humour into my novels,l but I find sometimes it happens naturally and sometimes it doesn’t. I also love point #3. It’s so important to get the body language right — when it’s not it really sticks out.
I love the part of this post about using body language specific to a character. I really need to work on this, and plan to.
I’m currently writing a young adult romance with heavy elements of suspense.
Great post! Well, I’m hoping I use humor, emotion, and suspense (not to mention a few hot make out scenes) to keep the reader turning the page.
I also love the ‘body language specific to the a character’ part. I need to work on that. It doesn’t come naturally to me.
I’m thinking more about these tasty extras for my current WiP, as I’m drafting (some come in the draft, but others have to be tucked in later). I think it depends somewhat on the book as well. For my mg fantasy, there are a lot of fish-out-of-water elements that play well for humor and tension – things that wouldn’t work so well in a different work. For my last YA novel, it was humor-as-defensive-weapon that worked well. But I like the idea of giving it some thought…! 🙂
No matter what genre you are writing, body language specific to the character that shows emotion is something every writer needs to master. And that probably doesn’t come in the first draft b/c it requires extra thought. I’d go through during revisions and pick out…you know what, I think I’ll talk about it in a blog post next week b/c everyone seeems to agree on that one – including me! 🙂
Wonderful post. I tweeted you. 🙂
I’m currently rewriting my YA paranormal romance. I find I use pivotal chapter endings and a bit of humor. But all the humor is not the same. With a secondary character I use what you’d think of as real humor, but with my mc it’s more snarky and sarcastic which is part of her overall character development. I also definitely use a mix of the external and internal growth of both my MCs.
I love finding quiet humor in the books I read. Creating it is really hard to do in a manuscript, at least for me. But I’ll keep trying!
As for specific character descriptions… that’s another toughy for me. Actually I’m thinking of spending some time with a muted television just watching actors movements and writing them down. You know whenever I get all that free time… 🙂
I write contemporary romance and I like all these tricks you have listed and try to incorporate them as often and as best I can. The ROP (read on prompt) is a biggy for me, as I tend to like to tie things up at the end of each chapter, so I keep telling myself you’ve got have a ROP and it’s amazing how easily one comes to me that really does fit when I address that issue.
I’m writing a MG book right now (well, I’m in the plotting phase at the moment). These are excellent tricks. I love subtle humor in MG books!
Laura: Both body language and subtle humor to soften some of the hard-edged themes is what I aim for. Not sure if I actually hit it the first time, but I keep tweaking.
Great Friday 5!
and just think that all these little things that are tweaked in revision: end of chapter hooks, body language and dialogue tags, humor (not too much or little) all add up to making a big difference!
Great analysis, very well explained! And Kat just moved a bit further up my TBR pile.
I have to read this now! I like to see humor mixed in, and done well.
I used Kat in one of my recet middle grade blog posts about titles…you inspired me!
Great tips!! I, too, try to include humor in my stories and like someone said before, sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s harder in the horror fiction I write to come up with funnies, but I try to keep them there to lighten a moment when necessary. Body language is very important in the work, that’s why I hang out at The Bookshelf Muse so much…
My favorite thing is definitely the chapter endings–I absolutely love making someone go “AUGH!!!” and frantically turn pages.
I wish I could do humor better, though. My CP does humor so well it kills me–so jealous! Maybe some day I’ll learn to be funny. 😉
I love your Friday Five! You always have such good ideas and info. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day weekend!
Awesome 5. I learn so much from you, laura! 🙂
Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse
fantastic post. It’s good to think about all those tips you mentioned. I write YA (currently Fantasy Steampunk) but I don’t think it matters what genre it is– all these tips are handy for bringing the story alive and engaging the readers.
more and more just sounds like a really great book. Can’t wait to get it~
Thanks, Laura! Hope you had a happy mother’s day~