On our way to school one morning, my son noticed the particularly enormous, jacked up Ford F150 in front of us. Honestly, one couldn’t miss it. The sun danced on its shimmering black body, with shiny silver decals, and its upgraded suspension revealed a dazzling chrome plated differential.
“Why do people do that?” my sensible son asked.
“Why do you think people do that?” I stalled while reaching for my sunglasses.
“Maybe to go off road?” Mr. Practical said.
“Because it looks cool,” the young idealist in the back seat chimed in. In silence we considered the brilliant black beast. As it veered to our right we pondered the larger-than-life wheels, their chrome rims happily casting sun stars in our eyes.
“Well,” said Mr. Practical, “it certainly adds interest.”
And with that he got me thinking. A pick-up truck is the ultimate utility vehicle. America’s workhorse. Full-on functionality. The contractors’ reliable staple. Like plot.
Plot is the writer’s Ford F150. It steadily carries all our tools, our characters, our story, and our devices. But just like pick-up trucks, plots can do with a little bling. So how can we add a lift-kit, decals, or some chrome plating to our writing?
- Add descriptors. A few carefully placed descriptors can clarify a character and endear that character to the reader. For example, take Louisiana Elefante from Kate DiCamillo’s RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. The second time the reader encounters Louisiana, she has six pink bunny barrettes scattered in her hair. “I remember that girl,” I thought as I read. Those barrettes defined Louisiana better than any lengthy description ever could. They appeared throughout the story, not essential to the plot, but certainly adding interest and defining character.
- Add character traits. We all have little traits, or facial expressions, or tells. Incorporate those in your novel. Does your character play with her jewelry when she is nervous? Does he walk with his hands in his pockets? Sprinkle those traits, like carefully placed decals, throughout your narrative to help define your characters.
- Repetition, a pattern, or a chorus also add interest. In THE SEVENTH WISH Kate Messner uses the serenity prayer repeatedly, in different forms. Seeing what those words represent to different characters, brings another layer, and helps the reader embrace the end. She also uses the “word game” as a chorus, at first for comical relief, but later in the book as exposition of the characters’ thoughts and emotions.
- Revisiting themes and weaving a symbol or metaphor all the way through a novel are other ways to soup up a story.