Sunday, June 5, 2011
The Real Side of Fiction
Our guest blogger today is Theresa Meyers, author of the Harlequin Nocturne Sons of Midnight series. The newest installment, The Vampire Who Loved Me, is available now. Visit her website to find more steamy titles.
There are times when reality shifts slightly in favor of speculation. Fiction is one of those finite shifts when we can take readers and bend reality just enough that for a moment they are held in a willing suspension of disbelief—in other words one damn good story.
So how does a writer make it happen?
Well, I’ve always thought for every writer it was different, but the truth is the more you peel apart best-selling fiction and block-buster movies, the more you learn there are elements that drive an audience to believe. Let me share three I’ve found work for me.
For me, one of those elements a basis in reality. It’s not that the things in my fictional stories of vampires for Harlequin or steampunk for Zebra are honest-to-goodness real, but that they based in reality. They are close enough to the experiences of my readers to ensure they can identify with what happens between the pages as real.
Let me give you an example from my latest vampire book, The Vampire Who Loved Me, which just hit store shelves this month. In this mini-series I have vampires who are transformed from humans to vampires by means of a virus. Why a virus? Why not? Throughout our development, the top predator in any food chain has always been brought low by the microscopic power of virus and bacteria. No one can escape it. Heck, look at how much effort we put every year into coming up with the latest flu vaccine. So when I created my vampire world I came up with a virus, which in sufficient quantity will transition a human. If it’s in smaller quantities it can give a “cold”, a temporary change in state of the body where it experiences conditions it wouldn’t normally. For a flu virus you get things like a fever, aches or upset stomach. With the vampire virus it’s things like being stronger, healing faster and having amped up sensory input (so you can see farther, hear better, etc.)
By making it a virus, it also taps into a second element that pulls the reader more firmly into my make-believe world—shared experiences. We’ve seen what happens and how people panic when a new disease (HIV, AIDS, bird flu, swine flu) comes bursting over the news and thousands start falling ill. By taking that shared universal experience and coupling it with my fictional story, I can set up a situation where my readers can completely understand the panic that ensues and people’s reactions when they learn that vampirism is caused by a virus and that the virus has been accidentally released into the national blood supply.
A third element that works wonders is using sensory input to develop empathy. There’s a reason why my vampires can smell emotions. Research has shown that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers our brains have. When I pick scents, I think about the reactions those scents create. We get a totally different set of reactions when we think about the scent of fresh baked cookies than we do about the odor of burning hair. By using those sensory reactions, I can pull readers again into a more full experience of the book. They get lost in the story because all these things are happening underneath the story itself.
Take a look at your stories. What elements can you pump up on a subtle level to pull readers in farther into experiencing the story? How can you modify your storyline to include things that tap into their universal experiences? Remember that the easiest emotions we go to are anger and fear (fight or flight). It’s natural and normal. But as writers you have to dig into deeper emotions and fascination triggers (check out the book by Sally Hogshead, Fascinate on the subject). Triggers like lust, mystique, vice, alarm, power, prestige and trust can be augmented by deep emotions like guilt, sorrow, pain, devotion, and hope. Don’t just do the basics.
In the end, writing fiction isn’t just about getting them to believe in the world you’ve created, it’s creating an experience that takes them so thoroughly into that world that they feel they’ve been there.