[Tipster] More Cowbell. And More Drama.

tipster post Jun 17, 2022

We all want to write so people love to read us: "I picked up her book, and I couldn't put it down."

That is a high compliment.

Here's another: "I asked our book club to read it!"

Whoa! Now that may be the best compliment of all.

Or, "I referred the book to all of my friends."

None of us (except maybe the Unabomber) aspires to write a manifesto that only a few people read.

This is true whether you are writing an inspirational book.

Whether you're writing a memoir. Or a novel.

Or even a nonfiction book in which you tell stories.

Drama Creates Tension

I've mentioned in a previous Tipster that I'm reading "Catherine the Great" by Robert Massey.

This is a historical account of the life and times of Catherine the Great, the Russian Empress from 1762 to 1796.

She was Russia's last empress and longest-ruling female leader.

I expected the book to be dry. You know, like history books normally are.

It's not.

Perhaps that's why Massey, the author, won the Nobel Prize for his book, "Peter the Great."

Two Keys to a Book that I Must Refer

And I definitely would refer "Catherine the Great" to you.

There are probably a hundred key things that make a book "refer-worthy."

But here are two:

1. Believable (and Maybe Even Crazy) Characters.

If you're writing a memoir, I need to care about you, the main character.

And I need to care about the other characters in your story. And your unique relationship with each.

I'm only at the beginning of "Catherine the Great," but here are some of the characters that are believable - and crazy.

* Catherine as a teenager and engaged to Peter, another teenager;

* Peter, the one Catherine is betrothed to. He may be gay. I'm not far enough along in the book to know for sure;

* Catherine's mother, Joanna, who is a crazy, glory-seeking "b____"; and

* Empress Elizabeth, who is mercurial, strangely religious at times, and, well, hateful and jealous.

Elizabeth is generous towards young Catherine and then spiteful towards her.

2. Lots of drama among the characters.

This means there are sparks, conflict, jealousy, devotion, hatred, loyalty - among the characters.

Let's just take the relationship between young Catherine (who winds up as Empress of Russia later) and her husband, Peter.

I think they are about 16 years old when they marry.

Peter takes no sexual interest in Catherine.

They don't consummate their marriage, and Peter likes to play "make-believe" war with the other servants in the quarters. He is a man-child.

He is petulant. And petty. He is crafty. And often he throws tantrums like a four year old.

He is small and frail.

And we learn later that Catherine overthrows her own husband and takes over the leadership of Russia. You go, girl!

Now that is drama!

Does Your Writing Reveal Real Human Relationships

My point is simply this: Slow down your writing to think through the type of relationship each major character has with each of the other characters.

If you're writing a memoir, you, as the author and narrator, don't have the same relationship with your mom that you do with your father.

And your father and mother definitely have their own kind of relationship, whether dysfunctional or healthy or maybe both.

Real human relationships are revealed in scenes.

In dialogue and conversation.

Even if you're writing nonfiction, when you insert a story into your narrative, make sure your characters reveal something about their relationship with each other.

In short, write your story so that someone says, "I just couldn't put this book down!" 



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