What Can An Author Use To Give The Reader More?

Five Ways Writers Give You More

By Warren Nast

 

Being a writer is more than just putting nouns in front of verbs. There is a whole pantry of techniques and visual things we use to give the reader more. Here are my top five.

Epigraphs:

At the beginning of a fine meal, the chef might send to your table an amuse-bouche (a one-bite appetizer) that sets the tone for the rest of the meal. Likewise, an epigraph serves the same purpose as the mini-appetizer as it helps set the tone for what the reader is going to experience. 

Here are a few examples:

From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way – Juan Ramon Jimenez

 

The Cell by Stephen King is a book about an electronic signal that turns people into mindless killers. Here are Mr. King’s epigraphs:

The id will not stand for a delay in gratification. It always feels the tension of the unfilled urge. – Sigmund Freud

Human aggression is instinctual. Humans have not evolved any ritualized aggression-inhibition mechanisms to ensure the survival of the species. For this reason, man is considered a very dangerous animal. – Konrad Lorenz

Can you hear me now? – Verizon

 

Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, gives us this tasty morsel to start her story.

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mold me, Man, did I solicit thee

From darkness to promote me?

Paradise Lost, X, 743-45

 

I always enjoy going back after reading the book and seeing how well the epigraphs capture the spirit of the work. I also think a good epigraph gives the story some gravitas. When you re-read the epigraph, you will be amazed how well the author sets the mood in a quick, pithy quote.  

Be careful using song lyrics as they often require permission and sometimes involve a fee. There are plenty of places to get could quotes. I would wait till I am finished with writing a story before figuring out which quote to use.

 

Punctuation:

In the English language, we have fourteen common marks we use for Punctuation. They are the period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, brackets, braces, parentheses, apostrophe, quotation marks, and the ellipsis.

Author Nicola Morgan says, “Punctuation is a fabulous tool for controlling your reader – you even get to control where they breathe. That’s what I call power!”  Says writer, Nicola Morgan.

Since texting has thrown out the rules of Punctuation, here is where a writer can distance himself from the wannabe’s. Just like a chef has more skill and knowledge than a cook, a skilled writer with a mastery of Punctuation makes reading enjoyable. 

Stephen King writes massive books, and one of the ways he makes a thousand-page story flow is his mastery of Punctuation. While most writers just use the period and comma (your basic salt and pepper), King will make a virtual punctuation spice rub. Here in this example from his novel Desperation; in this two hundred and fifty-one-word paragraph, King uses eleven out of the fourteen common punctuations! 

He shook her off and put his finger on the wolf’s back (all at once, he was sure that was what it was, not a coyote but a wolf). The radio went dead again. At the same time, there was a cough of broken glass from somewhere behind them. Cynthia yelped. Steve had already taken his finger off the rock; he would have done that even if nothing at all had happened, because she was right: it felt nasty. But for a moment, something did happen. It felt as if one of the more vital circuits in his head had shorted out, for one thing. Except . . . hadn’t he been thinking about the girl? Doing something to the girl, with the girl? The kind of thing both of you might like to try but would never talk about to your friends? A kind of experiment? Even as he was mulling this over, trying to remember what the experiment might have been, he was reaching out for the stone again with his finger. He didn’t make a conscious decision to do this, but now that he was, it seemed like a good idea. Just let that old finger go where it wants, he thought, bemused. Let it touch whatever it— She grabbed his hand and twisted it away from the piece of stone just as he was about to put his finger on the wolf’s back. “Hey, sport, read my lips: I want to get out of here! Right now!”

King, has served us, a punctuation smorgasbord, only leaving out the hyphen, bracket, and braces from this buffet. So bone up on your punctuation rules and start adding spice into your writing with a well-placed semicolon or ellipses. A variety of Punctuation gives depth to any story you will read or write.

 

Easter eggs:

Colin M. Drysdale describes them as “A literary Easter egg is an extra layer to an object, action, piece of dialogue or character in a story which may be hidden to many readers, but which provides those in the know with a little extra kick of pleasure because they’ve got the intended reference. They also provide additional layers to a story which readers might miss the first time they read a book, giving them something else to discover if they return to a story for a second helping.”

Easter eggs should not be confused with a MacGuffin (an object that moves the plot) or foreshadowing (warning of a future event). If the reader misses these two items, they will not enjoy the story, whereas an Easter egg is like the spontaneous joy a child has when finding that surprise when 

On the original title page of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien used his invented language to decorate the borders. But once translated, the Easter egg reads: The Lord of the Rings translated from the Red Book of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth the history of the War of the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the Hobbits.”

Horror writer, Cathy Jordan says, she uses names as Easter eggs offering a hidden meaning with the moniker. This is the kind of Easter egg that doesn’t affect the story but when you know about it enhances the read.

 

Foreign Phrases

I can guarantee, once you start noticing foreign phrases, you will see they appear in almost everything you read. Foreign phrases in a text give depth to the scene and give the character some gravitas in their bearing.  

In Brad Thor’s book Black Ice, he has this foreign phrase; “In the half-light pouring through the window, he could just make out the tattooed line of a thin blue script running down her spine. It was a quote from Sartre: Il est impossible d’apprecier correctement la lumiere sans connairte les tenebres. (It is impossible to properly appreciate the light without knowing the darkness.) This is the perfect metaphor for both of the main characters. Thor adds a backstory that these two are not one hundred percent angels even though they are the good guys.

Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, throws out this pithy French phrase when describing police detectives: “Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire,” which translates into: “A fool always finds greater fool to admire him.” The reader can deduce that Holmes is educated, considers himself superior, and is blunt in his ways. 

 

Maps & Diagrams

Finally, writers may enhance a reader’s experience by including maps and diagrams. These are often found on the inside cover.

Tolkien’s map of middle earth provides hours of enjoyment. Who doesn’t want to know where the Hobbits live to where the Misty Mountains are.

In Project Hail Mary, author Andy Weir includes a diagram of the rocket ship the hero flies off to save Earth in. Weir, does a good job of explaining the spaceship in the text but adding this diagram it helps the reader clearly see what the author intended.

Louis L’amour western books include a map of the area covered in his stories. The map helps us to fully comprehend the great lengths our hero goes through to save the ranch or get those cattle to market.

Writer, Michael Crichton does a great job of adding diagrams to help us understand the scientific principles in his books such as Jurassic Park. The scene where they discover the dinosaurs are reproducing using the tables and graphs is quite exciting.

Dan Brown used many in the Da Vinci Code to help Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon decipher clues in his thrillers.  

Growing up reading Marvel Comics they often included diagrams of Peter Parker’s apartment or the layout to Avenger’s mansion and its sublevels. As a reader, I spent a lot of time on this kind of geeky stuff. Who knows when I will need to make my own utility belt, but I could if I had to!  

So the next book you read, don’t skip the epigraph, look out for those foreign phrases, use your map to see how many miles that hobbit is traveling, see if that lead character’s name has some secret meaning, and observe how the writer uses those fourteen common punctuations. 

Happy reading.

 

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