February 18, 2015

Make Them Feel It

In 500 words, how to make a story, essay or article compelling. This was originally commissioned, along with another, longer piece, for the Irish Independent. Both pieces were intended for students preparing for the Leaving Cert. This one didn’t get published due to a lack of room (though they still paid in full for it), so I’m posting it here.

You haven’t much time. You have a story to write, perhaps an essay or an article. Your reader will have many, many of these to read. They’ll be checking that you’ve ticked the right boxes and then they’ll just move on to the next one. This is a person you’ll never meet and as far as they’re concerned, your piece is probably going to be nothing special. You’ve got to convince them they’re wrong – make them remember you . . . and the clock is ticking.

10: First, don’t write. Stop and think. Easy Option-Book BlastWhere do you need to end up? What’s the last thing you’ll say? Your ending doesn’t have to be set in stone, but you need a direction to head off in.

9: Get their attention. What’s the situation you’re describing? Present a problem in need of a solution. Pose a question in the reader’s mind: How is this going to work out? It’s the key to suspense: Ask a question . . . make them wait for an answer.

8: You have a problem to be solved, but why should your reader care? What’s the strongest negative emotion it can provoke? Provoke it by describing how bad the situation could be. If this is a story, dump your main character right in the middle of the problem. If it’s an essay or article, make a strong statement, then tease the reader towards your justification for making it.

7: If there are no characters, if it’s an essay, remember that emotion is as strong a persuader as logic. Passion can be convincing. What do you feel strongly about? What can you argue passionately for? Why?

6: Write it as if you’re feeling it. Make your reader feel it too. Write in the present tense, or moment by moment in the past tense. You’re emotionally affected by this and your reader should be there with you. First person or third? Or maybe even the second person, throwing the emphasis back on the reader.

5: Characters need to be believable individuals, different from each other. Each has a distinctive job to do in the story. Sometimes the clash between the different characters is the whole story. Often, it’s how they fail that keeps us reading, how their personality is ill-suited to the task at hand. Maybe they caused the problem. We’ll cheer for them all the more if the cause seems hopeless, but they don’t give up.

4: Reinforce that question hanging in the reader’s mind. Start offering up solutions, but then knocking them down. Create suspense through failed attempts at success.

3: Things have to be at their worst right before the end; the tensest moment, the most threatening event, the worst element of the issue. All is about to be lost.

2: The punch-line, the pay-off, the climax. You deliver the goods.

1: Wrap it up and be quick about it. Drawn-out endings are boring and you haven’t got time.

Now let it go and move on. You’ve got other things to do.

April 23, 2012

Win the Chance to be a Character in a Book!

To celebrate the release of ‘Merciless Reason’, the third book in the Wildenstern Saga, we are offering one reader the chance to make an appearance as a character in my next novel.* Like a walk-on part in a film, except you won’t have to walk. To enter, you need to do two things:

1. Simply answer this question:
In the opening chapter of ‘Ancient Appetites’, the first Wildenstern book, Nate goes hunting for a wild motorcycle in the Wicklow Mountains. What do the local people call this creature?**

2. Send us a short written description of what you look like. Include some of your interests or hobbies. Use no more than forty words – no photos or attachments please!

Send your entry by email to: competition@oisinmcgann.com.
Please put your answer to the question in the subject line.

There will also be three runners-up, each of whom will receive inscribed copies of all three Wildenstern novels.

The closing date for the competition is the 15th of June.

*My next book is entitled ‘Rat-Runners’. It’s not a Wildenstern book, but will be a thrilling piece of work nonetheless.

**The first chapter of ‘Ancient Appetites’ can be found here. Hint: The name starts with a ‘B’.

The winner will be announced on or before the 15th of July at www.oisinmcgann.com.

For the Terms & Conditions, please refer to the ‘Merciless Reason’ page.

And on a final, related note, I recently did a guest post on the Falcata Times blog for their Steampunk Week. It’s a letter to Nathaniel from his father, Edgar, after Nate’s first attempt to flee from the family (before the events of ‘Ancient Appetites’). It is a note of caution from a ruthless old businessman to a son he considers gormless and impulsive. It won’t warm your heart.