5 Tips for Writing Dynamic Characters

I’m currently reading “The Martian” by Andy Weir, and the book’s premise is wonderful–a man’s struggle to survive on foreign soil.  By itself, the plot moves along like a greased roller skate; unfortunately, the characters never do the same.

While reading the book, I became aware of the main character’s lack of growth.  I mean, come on, he’s stranded on Mars, and yet from page one, he’s equipped with all the knowledge and grit needed to overcome every broken vehicle, station, and communication device (There’s no room to grow).  It’s apparent the protagonist is a thinking machine with full emotional stability and a Swiss Army Knife of mechanical ingenuity for every situation.  In other words — he’s too “super” to be human, and that’s how the story begins.

Characters should have room to evolve and become better versions of themselves.  The following tips provide a framework for establishing the “change” process.

Determine the Change Before Writing.

Sometimes characters change before your eyes.  It’s not uncommon for a character to suddenly stand up for himself or to make a choice he’s never made before.  However, as general good practice, the writer should have some idea of how the character will change.  Without plans for how the character might transition, the writer may never create a situation where change is plausible or even attempted.  Deliberateness in writing does not hinder creativity; rather, creativity thrives under intentional planning.

Foreshadow the Change Early.

A character change should not happen spontaneously.  The change must be believable, or the reader will feel betrayed.  To ensure a smooth transition for your reader, it’s best to foreshadow the potential for change early on.  Characters should display subtle emotions or actions that hint toward the possibility for change.  In fact, the reader should be so well-informed of the impending change that he is not surprised when the flip occurs.  Consider this sage advice from writer Kurt Vonnegut:

Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Let the reader see a card or two before slamming a royal flush upon the table.

Write the Character’s “Lowest Point.”

Readers want to see the character struggle.  To ensure this occurs to the reader’s satisfaction, early conflict should revolve around the character’s inability to overcome an obstacle due to missing some intrinsic value or quality.  This might be the character’s lack of courage to stand up for a loved one, lack of motivation to change a dire situation, lack of sympathy for some demoralized group, etc.  Make this “low point” in the character’s arc awful and oppressive so that the eventual change is noteworthy in juxtaposition.

Allow Conflict to Drive the Change.

Let the boilerplate of the character’s turmoil rage until change is the only option.  Throughout the narrative, allow the character to come into constant opposition with himself, a struggle that directly relates to the primary conflict of the narrative.  In The Hunger Games trilogy, the political unrest within the protagonist’s district causes her to consistently face doubt, fear, anxiety, and disgust.  These emotions eventually propel the character into a place where change is the only means to survival.  The most believable character transitions are those born from a sense of urgent response to an intrinsic need.  For more information on how to establish conflict in a story, click here.

Reflect on the Change in the Resolution.

Unless you’re guaranteed a multi-book contract, avoid cliffhangers.  Your story ending should provoke wonder but shouldn’t leave the reader so much in the dark that he can’t see a streetlight.  In the very least, the reader should understand the results of the story’s climax and be able to guess the repercussions.  Once your character changes, let the reader get inside the character’s mind to see the effects.  After all, suspense is meant to be satisfied, and if you’ve written a good narrative, your reader will be chewing fingernails, begging for resolution.  Reward the reader for making it to the end.

Conclusion.

Like real people, fictional characters are destined for change.  Give them room to grow, and let them become more than what they ever hoped to be.

What’s the best and most believable character change you’ve read?  Let me know in the comments below.

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5 Tips for Balancing Writing and Work

I’m not a full-time writer.  This means the responsibilities of work often override the passions of writing.  In a world where there’s never enough time for everything, it’s easy to sideline passion.  After all, passion seldom pays the bills, and for some reason, my family tends to enjoy running water and electricity.

Fortunately, there are ways to ensure passion keeps its rightful place within our daily agenda.

Take a Nap Before Writing.

When I come home from work, I am mentally and physically fatigued.  It’s impossible to think about writing in that state, one where my head will barely sit on my shoulders, let alone spend another hour or two watching the cursor push across a white screen.  When work is the hardest, a little shut-eye can achieve miracles in writing productivity.  Take a 20-30 minute nap before delving into your latest project.  Your mind will be sharper, and your potential for productivity and creativity will skyrocket.

Stop Working When You Meet Your “Project Goal.”

I bring work home every day (and on weekends too).  I love my career, and I love the work involved; however, there comes a time when work must cease and other priorities must begin.  In my experience, it works best to set project goals for work rather than time goals (Time goals are difficult to maintain, and project goals produce more consistent results).  Just like setting a word count, you should determine the minimum number of projects or tasks you will complete before putting the work away and starting the creative writing process.

Write During the “Wait” Time.

There are times during the day when you’re waiting and doing nothing else.  This downtime could occur in the final minutes before a lunch break ends or even in the time you spend sitting in the car, waiting for someone else to run inside the gas station.  Ordinarily, we just pick up our phones and piddle around on Facebook (more on that later), but that time could be better spent writing a few notes or sentences on our next story idea.  Small moments add up to chunks of time, and time is the key to productive writing habits.

Don’t Waste Recreational Time.

After a long work week, it’s tempting to rush into the weekend with a wasteful attitude.  After all, you’ve likely spent the entirety of your week squeezing every possible second out of the clock, so why not throw caution to the wind when you’re on your own time?  This type of thinking is counterproductive, and when the weekend or the “day off” flies by, we’re back to work without a single word on the page.  Structure your free time like you structure your work time, and your productivity will increase.  Don’t spend the whole day on Netflix if you haven’t spent a single minute on the page.

Make Social Media a Reward.

Social media is the biggest time sink on the planet.  If you want to avoid both work and writing, just open Facebook, and stare into the abyss for a few hours.  Social media isn’t evil, but it does antagonize our productivity, especially when we’re already inundated with a laundry list of work and writing tasks to accomplish.  The solution is to use social media as a type of reward, not a readily available platform for idleness.  When you’re halfway to your word count, set a timer on your phone, and browse Twitter for ten minutes.  When you finish your word count, go nuts and bury your whole day in Facebook if the inclination strikes.  The trick is to reward yourself when the work is finished, not before.

Conclusion.

These days, it’s impossible to accomplish everything we want to do in the work world or in the writing world.  For that reason, we must strike a balance between our careers and our passions.  One should not give way to the other; rather, each should be mutual partners in fulfillment of the whole person.

Do you have tips for balancing work and writing?  If so, share them in the comments below.

Tips for Revising an Old Story

There’s a story graveyard on my laptop, and I’m sure it’s haunted.  I heard it howl last night when I opened a new Word document.  It beckoned me to click a dusty yellow folder named “Old Drafts,” and when I did, the ghosts of a hundred tales appeared before me, most without an ending, several without more than a couple paragraphs.  I double-clicked one of the stories, and for the first time in a couple years, the story opened onto my desktop, begging for a revision.

We all have stories like that.  They’re the ones we put aside with every intention to finish, but we never do, and before we know it, they’re buried deep on the hard drive, never to see another edit.  There are reasons these works might live in the story graveyard:

  1. The story was rejected for publication too many times
  2. Inspiration dwindled in the midst of the story’s rising action
  3. Another story appeared out of nowhere and stole the show
  4. Life, work, and family needed more attention
  5. The laptop exploded, leaving the story in smoke

These are all (mostly) legitimate reasons for putting a story aside, but from time to time, an old draft finds its way back to the screen.  Fortunately, even if time passes, the writer can take steps to get the story back on the slate.  Here’s what I do when revising an old story:

Read the Entire Manuscript.

Most story ideas never go away, so when I revisit an old draft, I feel like I know exactly what it’s about.  The problem is that I remember how the story should have been written instead of how it was actually written.  For this reason, you should always read an old manuscript from beginning to end before making any revisions (Don’t even fix a comma until you’ve internalized the fullness of the narrative).  Sometimes the story will feel foreign, so you may need to read the manuscript several times before you again feel like it’s something you’ve penned with your own hand.  If the story’s been in the drawer awhile, it’s possible you don’t even remember your protagonist’s name, let alone his/her motivations.

Take Notes on Theme and Voice.

When you feel the story is your own, open a notepad and jot down the story’s themes and a sample of the main character’s voice.  When revisiting an old story, it’s important that all edits are organic, that when the manuscript is read, it’s impossible to discern the revisions from the style of the original piece.  Theme and voice are two elements that immediately stand out when not matched to the content and style of the unedited manuscript.  Always reference your list of thematic elements and voice to ensure the narrative remains consistent during editing.  There’s nothing worse than inadvertently derailing a major theme or giving your southern cowboy a New York accent midway through the story’s climax.

Revise in Chunks and Read Aloud.

Don’t get carried away with edits, not at first.  Instead of dumping whole paragraphs in the middle of the piece, find a place to add a single sentence, and write it in a style and form that enhances the original work.  Once you’ve added the sentence, back up and read the entire paragraph aloud, paying particular attention to how the new sentence connects on both ends to existing sentences.  When you’re sure the sentence is properly integrated, you can move on to other paragraphs and do the same, working your way toward the end of the piece.  When you’re comfortable enough to add whole paragraphs, be sure to go back and read them aloud in the context of the larger work.

Revise the Whole Piece in One Sitting.

If the story hasn’t been open in awhile (weeks, months, or years), there’s an urgency in the editing process to complete revisions.  Each time the story is revised, the writer must return to the main character’s mindset, spending a lot of time re-reading the story to do so.  This constant revisiting takes time and reduces momentum toward actually completing the story.  For this reason, when revising an old story, the writer should commit to completing the work in one sitting.  The story is already collecting cobwebs, but a firm broom might scare the spiders away for good.

Send the Story to New Publication Venues.

When the story is complete, it’s time to send it out for publication.  If the story was previously submitted for publication, be sure to revisit your tracking sheet so that you don’t send it to the same publication venues twice.  Writing credibility is hard to come by, so don’t squander it on a silly mistake.  Even if you’ve done a substantial amount of work on your story, never send it back to a magazine where it’s already been rejected.  If this is your first publication attempt, check out my article on how to submit a short story for publication.

Conclusion.

My story graveyard is full of ghosts, but they’re not all worth salvaging.  Before you spend valuable time re-reading and revising, make sure there’s potential in the old draft; otherwise, your creative energy is best spent on new and shinier works.  Stories are best when they’re inspired, so before you go raising an old one from the dead, be sure it’s a thriller, and be sure it’s fit to live again.

Have you ever raised a story from the dead?  If so, how did it go?  Let me know in the “Comments” below.

How to Submit a Short Story for Publication

When I was in third grade, I remember a poster hanging at the back of the classroom.  The poster was mounted in the middle of a concrete wall, and around it hung laminated paper crayons.  In sharp red letters, the poster read, “The Writing Process,” and beneath the title were five steps: Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Publishing.  The “Publishing” step always gave me pause.

I was curious why students were never invited to publish their work.  When I became older and explored the publication process for myself, I discovered the dirty secret: Publication is nearly impossible, and third grade fiction is about as good as first grade calculus (in my personal experience anyway).  Although publication doesn’t provide much hope for third graders, there is certainly hope for writers who are a bit older and a bit more seasoned.

The following sections provide an outline for submitting a finished short story to a literary journal.  If your story is finished (Click here if you’re not sure), it’s time to get it off the hard drive and on its way to the folds of a flashy magazine cover.

Find a Journal.

The first step on your story’s journey to publication is finding it a home.  In my experience, there are two ways to do this:

  1. Purchase the newest edition of “Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market” at your local bookstore.
  2. Visit “The Review Review,” and search for a journal that best fits the theme and style of your story.

When using one of the listed methods for locating a journal, here are a couple questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you intend to submit your short story to multiple journals?
    If so, make sure each journal you submit to accepts “simultaneous submissions.”  This means that the journal doesn’t mind if the story is also under consideration elsewhere.  This is common practice for most modern journals, but you will run across the occasional odd ball who wants to consider your fiction exclusively.  If you submit to a journal that does not accept simultaneous submissions, keep in mind that response times typically range from 4-12 months.  If your story ends up getting rejected, you’ve placed all your eggs in one basket and will have to start from scratch.
  2. Do you want to be paid money for your short story?
    Of course you do!  Unfortunately, most journals are too small or poor to offer actual money to contributors, so you will usually receive a free copy or two of the journal in which your work appears if you are accepted.  Paying in contributor’s copies is common practice, and if this is your first publication attempt, these are the journals you should aim for.  If you want to gamble, some higher-end journals pay actual money for short stories, but these journals are highly selective and have a steeper rejection rate for new writers.

Read Submission Guidelines.

Once you’ve selected a potential venue for your short story, it’s time to read the journal’s submission guidelines.  These guidelines are often on a separate page of the journal’s website (Look for links that say “Submit” or “About”).  Read these guidelines, and make sure they are followed precisely.  Here are a few items to look for when considering if your work is an appropriate fit for a given journal:

  1. Word Count
    The total word count of your submission should fall somewhere in the middle of the recommended guidelines.  For example, if the journal publishes short stories between 1,500-3,500 words, you will have the best chance of getting published at around 2,000-3,000 words.
  2. Reading Fee
    Some journals require a small fee (usually $1-3) to read and process your manuscript.  The journal may call this reading fee something else (e.g. processing fee, submission fee, support fee), but the bottom line is the editors will not read your work without it.
  3. Reading Period
    You can’t submit to a journal that isn’t accepting submissions.  Make sure the journal is open to submissions prior to submitting your work.  Most journals will make it impossible to submit work when the reading period is closed, but some will allow it.  In all cases where work is submitted outside of the journal’s reading period, the work is discarded without being read.
  4. Response Time
    Most journals take anywhere from four (4) to twelve (12) months to read your work.  Make sure you are comfortable with the journal’s response time before submitting.

Format Manuscript.

One caveat of submitting the same story to multiple journals is that each journal will likely have its own formatting preferences.  In other words, you will need to format your story to fit the submission guidelines of each journal you submit to.  It is common for journals to request page numbers on your manuscript; however, some journals prefer for page numbers to  appear in the document’s header, and others prefer for page numbers to appear in the footer.  Although a reasonable editor will not judge a work’s quality by formatting issues alone, it’s best not to take the risk.

Read each journal’s submission guidelines carefully, and ensure your story fits the exact mold before sending it into the wild blue yonder.

Write a Cover Letter.

Although most journals require some form of cover letter, guidelines vary, so always refer to the journal’s recommendations before submitting.  Here are a few general tips for writing your short story’s cover letter:

  1. The first sentence should announce your intention to publish with the journal, along with a word count.
    Example: I am submitting my short story, “Awesome Possum” (2,376 words), for consideration in The Possum Review.
  2. If you are published elsewhere, or if you have won awards, state that information in the next sentence.
    Example: I have previously published work in Squirrels and Nuts, The Fox Trap, and Coyote Express.  My writing received the Furry Trotters Award for Creative Fiction in 2015. If you do not have publication credits or awards, don’t sweat it.  Just write something like, “If my work is accepted by The Possum Review, this will be my first publication.”
  3. Provide a brief biographical blurb about yourself that is both memorable and concise.
    Example: I am a teacher in Williamsburg, KY, and I live with my wife on a quarter-acre slice of Appalachian pie.
  4. Thank the reader for their time and effort in reviewing your short story.
    Example: Thank you for your time and consideration.

The quality of the short story itself will determine whether you earn the publication credit or not, so avoid getting “artsy” in your cover letter.  All of your creative energy should be poured into the short story, and the cover letter should just be an informational text that states the facts and nothing more.

Track Your Submissions.

If you’re submitting your story to multiple journals, or if you have multiple stories, you need a tracking method.  You can track your submissions by hand, but I recommend doing it in Microsoft Excel.

Here’s an example of how your tracking sheet might look:

submissionsYes, this is a sample from my own submission spreadsheet.  Notice that the tracking sheet is sortable, so I can quickly determine where my fiction is going and which stories are under consideration.  Also, I always include an “Inquire On” date to remind me to follow-up with the journal if I haven’t heard back from them before the “Expected Reply” time indicated on their website.

Conclusion.

Publication is the final step of the writing process.  Do your third grade self a favor, and make it all the way to the end of the process for once.  Just remember that every great writer took his/her first steps toward publication at some time or other.  When you stumble, you’re still moving forward, and sometimes, momentum is all you need.

So Your Story Was Rejected, Now What?

My story was rejected today.  I sent the poor thing to six different journals, and my top choice turned the story down cold.  I was sitting in the car while my wife went into the gas station to buy snacks for a short trip home.  Scrolling through my phone, I saw an unread e-mail and immediately noticed the journal’s title splashed across the heading.  With one eye closed and my lower lip quivering, I clicked the message and read aloud:

Dear Shannon Deaton,

Thank you for sending your work to [Redacted].  Unfortunately, it’s just not quite the right fit for the magazine at this time, given the other selections for the next issue.

I wish you all the best in finding a home for your work.

Sincerely,
Editor

This is a typical form rejection letter, not even the kind with a personalized message to give the writer some hope.  It’s a firm “no,” and the message is loud and clear.

So what should writers do when the familiar rejection letter comes rapping at the chamber door?

Sigh.

It’s okay to get mad.  Every blog or journal I’ve read gives the same advice on rejection– Don’t worry about it, get back to work, keep on trucking, put the gun away, etc.  I disagree.  There’s a moment following rejection when writers just need to draw in a deep breath and hate everything about the process.  It’s perfectly justified, and it’s healthy too.  Just take a big sup of oxygen, and huff it out with a fat, grumpy frown.  Normal people do normal things, and it’s normal to be upset when your baby’s tossed with the bath water.  Get mad for a minute.

Self-Reflect.

Think about the rejection letter and consider whether there’s anything useful there.  Most of the time, rejections are impersonal and direct.  They say things like–Good luck elsewhere, your story just doesn’t fit, try again next time, etc.  However, once in a blue moon, a rejection letter gives you useful feedback for future submissions.  My rejection example above notes that my story wasn’t a good fit for the magazine at this time.  I could drive myself crazy wondering if next time will be different, so I’ll only spend about two minutes on this step before moving on to the next.

Smile.

Come on, it’s just the first submission, and you’ve probably sent the story to a half-dozen other places.  Put on your best Joker face, and flash those pearly whites.  It’s one person’s opinion, and due to the sheer volume of submissions, rejection is bound to happen more often than not.  Now’s the time to let the anger subside and have a hearty laugh at the system.  We’re talking thousands of submissions per journal, with only 2-4 getting accepted during any given publication period.  Math is a funny monster, so chuckle in his face, and remember that the more you play the odds, the better your chances will be for actual publication.

Submit.

Get back to work.  Yes, every blog says this, and every blog is right (The other blogs are just wrong when they suggest starting at this step).  When you’ve had your little tantrum, it’s time to get back to the business of writing.  You’re a writer after all, and if you’re a real one, quitting isn’t an option.  There will be more rejections before you’re successful, so increase the volume of quality submissions to increase your chances of getting one through the pipeline.  Above all, remember that you’re not defined by a rejection letter; you’re defined by your grit and passion to continue.  Write, write, write — submit, submit, submit.

Conclusion.

Write for publication, but also write because it’s what you love to do.  When the inevitable rejection comes, just sigh, self-reflect, smile, and submit again.  Somewhere along the way, you’ll see your name in print, and it’ll all be worth the trouble.  It’s always worth the trouble in the end.

Tips for Establishing Suspense in Fiction

I listened to an incredible Freakonomics podcast over the weekend about suspense.  The podcast started with its ordinary pomp and circumstance, but when the conversations veered toward writing, I became enthralled and struggled to keep the car on the road.  It’s not every day you get writing tips from the radio, so my heart skipped a few beats.

On the podcast, author Harlan Coben defined suspense in this way:

[…] Suspense is to me, keeping people engaged and gripped and turning the pages.  Someone can put a gun to your head, and you will want to read.  That’s suspense.

Imagine suspense so great that you keep reading when a lethal weapon’s pressed to your ear.  Those are the types of experiences readers crave, and there are several strategies that writers can employ to establish this level of suspense in a narrative.

Missing People, Not Dead People.

So many stories operate on the premise of solving murder mysteries (CSI, anyone?).  The setup is typical — an extraordinary opening scene leads to the “unexpected” death of a trivial character, and subsequent scenes follow two or more gritty detectives on a hot pursuit for the truth.

The trouble with this approach is that dead people aren’t mysterious.  When a character dies, questions may surround the death, but the death itself is without suspense.  From the first scene, we know the character is dead, and he/she is not coming back.  But what if there was more to the story?

When writing a mystery, try letting your characters go missing instead of killing them off.  In this way, you establish hope, a powerful emotion for developing suspense in later paragraphs or chapters.  The potential of finding a character alive is more suspenseful than the reality of knowing a character is dead.

Work Backwards From the End.

Great mystery stories leave readers looking forward to the end.  The reason is because many mysteries end with a twist or an unexpected deviation from what the reader anticipates.  This feeling of the unknown creates suspense in every scene leading to the final page.

Writing twists at the end of a story require planning.  Unless you bleed perfect plot lines, it’s nearly impossible to write a believable twist without some idea of how the story might arrive at that destination.  Given the complexity of most plot twists, what can a writer do to ensure a potential twist is believable and well-planned?

Work backwards.  Begin with the final plot twist, and map how events could lead to that outcome in the end.  It’s as simple as writing down what you wish to accomplish and then charting the course that will lead you there.  It’s much easier to arrive at a destination if you’ve been there before and know the general direction you’re traveling.

Fiction is Stranger Than Truth.

It’s been said that truth is stranger than fiction, but the opposite is more accurate.  If a person is accused of murder in real-life (and if the person is actually guilty of the murder), the evidence is straight-forward and dull concerning the fact.  The knife has the accused person’s fingerprints, and a shred of the person’s DNA is found at the crime scene.  The world locks up another criminal, and no one bats an eye.

Consider the same scenario in fiction.  If the accused person’s fingerprints and DNA are all over the crime scene, the reader’s first instinct is to believe the person is innocent.  Why do we do this?  The reason is simple: We know the author must sell the reader on suspense, so if something uneventful occurs, we anticipate it must be a decoy.  Years of reading suspense has wired us that way.

Writers can use this wiring to their advantage.  To establish suspense in a story, the obvious solution is usually not the correct one.  Just when the reader thinks he/she has it all figured out, the writer can flip the script and prove nothing is as it seems.  Writers must remain mindful of where the reader thinks the narrative is going and then change it at the last possible moment to evoke suspense and surprise.

Conclusion.

Suspense can be used with great success if employed in unpredictable ways.  Think about your own experiences with fiction and the twists and turns taken by a particular author.

In the comments section, let me know your favorite narrative twist and why it was so effective in establishing surprise and/or suspense.

What Music Can Teach Us About Storytelling

My wife and I stopped at a local music festival on our way home from shopping yesterday.  On a makeshift stage, five weathered men sang Eagles tunes in Hawaiian shirts, and couples took to the street dancing.  We sat on the sidewalk, and I listened to the music, every verse, chorus, and bridge.  It was the story of summer, and it was available to anyone with an ear.

It struck me how musicians use musical devices to convey the elements of storytelling.  I play in a local band too, and obvious as it may be, I never made the connection between music and storytelling until last night.  You can’t just listen to “Lyin’ Eyes” and not be transported to another place.  Contemporary music is a model for storytelling, maybe one of the best we have.

The Rhythm.

Every band member played together.  It was more than reading notes from a page; there was a connectedness in every beat.  When the bassist plucked, the drummer stomped the kick drum, the guitarist snapped a soaring riff, and the vocalist belted a line in perfect synchrony.  The music was felt and not just heard by the assembled crowd.

In writing, every sentence and paragraph builds toward a collective melody.  Although a missed beat is noticeable in music, more so is a wrong beat.  A story’s characters, theme, setting, and plot should move in tandem so the reader can dance and not lose balance.  The difference between an average story and a noteworthy story is one of agreeable rhythm.

The Verse.

The music of each song began with a repeating melody, a building lyric that established the premise of the story.  Each verse of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” did just as the song title prescribed; it settled and focused the audience.  The driving rhythm became mellow, and the vocalists sang softer with less harmony and more stabbing, pointed lyrics.

A story cannot live in ‘high thrills.’  There must be exposition time, setting time, inner-monologue time.  These elements make the climax more enticing for the reader; it gives readers a reason to care.  If a fisherman is to catch a fish, a hook will never do without a line.  Like music, the hook brings crowds to attention, but the line (the verse) positions the hook where it needs to be.

The Chorus.

The audience huddled, they whispered, and they crowded.  When the band hit the first lick of “Take It to the Limit,” everyone knew where the mood was shifting.  Every verse built toward the chorus, and every mouth readied to proclaim the hook with anticipated satisfaction.  Even the band smiled when the moment approached, the music growing toward a resounding delivery.

In storytelling, the chorus is a repeated conflict, characterization, or plot element.  Its energy rewards the reader for his/her ongoing investment in the story.  Writers can leverage the repeated impact of conflict, characterization, and plot to fuel the rising action of lyrical tension.  Consistent striking of a reader’s nerve will invariably lead to a mind positioned for what happens next.

The Bridge.

The band shouted, and the crowd echoed; the band sang in falsetto, and the crowd danced the concrete harder; the band drove the rhythm raw, and the crowd lifted their hands in satisfied applause.  The bridge of “Take It to the Limit” was nothing more than a repetition of the chorus, but it was somehow more involved, somehow more intense and sensational.  Everyone knew it too.

The bridge of a song is the climax of a story.  In writing fiction, this is the moment when every drop in the bucket overflows onto the reader’s face.  It’s the moment when your bullied hero stands, your oppressed people rebel, your unabashed dreamer resolves to do more than imagine.  It’s the moment the reluctant dancer throws caution aside and shimmies into the twisting fray.

The Finale.

There is resolution to a song like there is resolution to a story.  Writers can learn much from what is thought to already be known.  I’ve listened to and played music all my life, but its connection to storytelling never hit me until I started listening with a different ear.  I listened with the ear of a writer, and in doing so, I found a story where none had been before.  I found a story made of music itself.