You know the easy button? I’m always looking for the easy button to editing.
And more often than not, I find it by zooming in a little closer.
Recently, I found one I think deserves a special place on this blog, because it’s a time-saver for new authors. And it’s a trick that hooks readers better than anything else, the story beneath the story.
Whether you’re just starting out writing or you’ve been at it awhile, one not-so-secret secret to it you need to use is to get out in front of readers.
Writing is like a magic show. You want to surprise and delight people who don’t see how you’re making this thing work.
My friend Jim Rubart is a pretty amazing magician and now he writes supernatural fiction. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
And unless you want to stay outside with the clueless audience, there’s a little trick to storytelling you need to know. It involves getting out ahead of readers and surprising them. In writing, staying ahead of readers means knowing their questions and withholding the info to reveal it at the right time.
For most first-time authors, this is done in editing because in their finished draft, too much is still on the surface. They’ve told the story, but it lacks art, intrigue. What’s going on?
Maybe it’s not much of a “secret” because we all know it already. But it’s so simple it’s often missed. And getting out in front of readers means taking the time to know their questions.
You have to study them and realize you’re the show, the teacher, the sorcerer they’ve come to see. You have to prove you belong up on that stage by asking yourself the secret question…
Secret Question: What’s hidden between the lines here?
Readers always want to ask what’s really going on here? And if they already know the answer you risk losing them.
If you haven’t hidden anything, you have no story. If you don’t hide enough, you have a boring story. Hide too much and you can lose people too, but this is the not-so-secret secret: there’s got to be a story beneath the story.
You’ve always got to be working to tell something that’s beneath or behind or inside of the words on the page. Sometimes it’s very subtle and sometimes it’s perfectly clear; it depends on what kind of author you are and what kind of books you like to read.
But between you and the reader, there is always an unacknowledged pact and that is that you agree to tell a story and much of that story is actually beneath the words on the page and is driving everything on the surface. That’s the mystery readers pay good money for. That’s the entertainment, the romance. And if you don’t give it to them, they won’t talk about your book.
What’s critically important is how you indicate what is beneath the story with clues, descriptions, little telling glances. You can be as obvious or as obtuse as you want, but it has to be clear and evident there’s more going on here.
How can it be obtuse and clear at the same time? Because there’s more to every story than we can capture in words. And when you read a good story, you enjoy the game of figuring things out.
Think about this next time you read: when there’s dialogue but their words aren’t saying what their bodies and eyes and inner dialogue is saying? That’s subtext. It’s not clear, but it is because you noticed it.
When there’s a secret someone’s holding or a motive others in the scene don’t know, that’s another mystery you’re in on. When there’s something the main character notices that others don’t, that’s the intrigue the writer is selling.
It’s like gold.
Readers want to dig for it. Point it out and hand them a shovel.
Is it so important? I think it is because the more you can get out in front of readers and hide things between the lines, the more they’ll want to try to figure out the story’s secrets. And that makes your story more book-worthy, more exciting, more remarkable.
Everyone has a story. But not everyone can write it. Even fewer can see how to give readers the story beneath the story and show what’s really going on without just blurting it out like a newb. Learn to tell the story beneath the story and you’ll show why yours is especially valuable.
Spend some quality time with the source of inspiration this week and ask for some insight into your secret question. You can do this.
That’s how you’ll know what to share and set up for readers to figure out.