December 16, 2016
By: Jonathan Merritt
“I’ll write what no one else wants to write.”
This was the plea I made to editors at dozens of publications in early 2006. To my surprise, many agreed. For years, I had spun my wheels in the mud of rejection but now I was writing film reviews, book reviews, sidebars, newsletters.
The best part? I was getting paid.
In money, no less.
By late 2007, I had won over my editor’s trusts and asked for bigger assignments. I wanted to write short columns, or better yet, feature articles. But when the opportunity arrived, I felt unprepared.
I had spent so much time writing short pieces devoid of any kind of style or voice that I my storytelling abilities were rusty. Luckily, I had a writing mentor who knew how to spin a knock-em-dead tale.
I emailed Margaret and asked for advice. Her response has never left me:
Telling a captivating story is a matter of trying to make the reader shout one simple word: “Aha!” Your stories should usher in a moment in which readers feel that they have actually discovered the main idea for themselves.
Think of it this way: Imagine yourself standing on the shore with the reader, staring at the horizon. You gasp and say, “Hey, something looks strange out there, doesn’t it? Why are the waves breaking that way?”
They don’t know and neither do you. So you decide to explore the phenomenon.
“Oh, look, there’s a reef,” you say. “Ooooh–it’s beautiful, but oh, it’s also dangerous. If boat captains don’t know its here, this could cause a catastrophe.”
By exploring with your reader and allowing them to have an epiphany, you create an “Aha moment.”
It has taken me years to master this trick, and I often revert back to my old ways. When I find myself slipping, I read the story and try to locate the moment when my reader would shout “Aha!”
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Too many writers are pushy storytellers. They force their readers forward at a lightning pace because they are eager to make their point.
But the story is part of the point. It demonstrates your main idea and illustrates the point you want to make.
No one wants to be pushed—in real life or while reading.
Rather than pushing your reader through a narrative, pull them. Draw them in. Beckon them with strong writing and engaging details to a clear moment where the main idea is unveiled.
Are you struggling to write an engaging tale? Stop writing and start reading. Did you give the narrative time to unfold? Did you rush through to declare your point? Can you locate the “aha moment?”
Get your readers to shout Aha and you’ll find they’ll come back again and again to explore the water with you.
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