3 Vs of Fiction: Vision

The burning question of every writer is, “How can I reach a wider audience?”
Three things are essential in today’s crowded marketplace: vision, voice and vulnerability. In this 3-part series, we will examine these essentials.

Vision: Do I dare disturb the universe? T.S. Eliot

You might call the need for vision, the ability to develop a high concept story idea, but it’s even more than that. It’s the ability to hit a raw nerve in your audience, the insight into specifics of situations that fascinate your readers, the Aha! recognition of heart-rending possibilities.

So what? When you have a clear vision for your writing, it helps you aim straight and hit the bull’s-eye. A strong vision answers the question, “So what?” Why should the reader care? What is new, special, different, fresh, original, inspiring, scary, or captivating in this story? Why should a reader care? About your theme? About your characters? About your plot? Why? So what?

The most important thing you can do is push your ideas toward the specific, toward the most emotional possible. Readers aren’t interested in the girl next door. Instead, they want to read about larger-than-life characters who face enormous odds–and either succeed or fail. (It’s not the success or failure that matter, it’s the struggle.)

The two adult books I have been recommending lately to everyone (and now to you) are Room, by Emma Donoghue and The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson.

In Room, a pre-school boy lives in a single room that is 11’ x 11’. He knows nothing else, it is his world. The puzzle that plays out over the course of the story is WHY his world is so restricted, how he and his mother have survived in this Room, and if they will escape. It’s a horrifying story, and yet—it’s a story of survival, of a young mother creating a safe place for her child in the midst of horror, a story of escape and the largeness of the human spirit even in the most restricting of environments. Wow! I liked this story, though, I hated the situation the characters were in.

Likewise, The Orphan Master’s Son is a tough tale, following an orphan’s life growing up in North Korea under Kim Il Jung. It’s another tale of horror and the ability of the human spirit to thrive under adversity: forced to fight in the darkness of caves and mines, forced to become a kidnapper for the state, forced to survive a prison, forced to overcome inadequate food/shelter, forced to—to find strength and freedom within himself, our orphan lives to the fullest.

The Vision of these two books is extraordinary, and beyond just high concept. The authors see into our very souls and show us the possibilities and richness of human experiences.

Whatever age you write for, you can find age-appropriate parallels to the stories you write. Push your ideas to the limits, go unexpected directions, ask your characters to reach deep for answers, throw everything horrible you can at the characters, then pull them back from the brink.

What is your Vision for the story you are currently writing? Go deeper.

  • Find 3 ways to make the situation worse for your character.
  • Throw in a plot twist on page 100.
  • State the basic theme of the story: deepen it by making everything more extreme. Bad, worse, worst—go to worst-er. The worst ever.
  • Study your character’s physical looks. Exaggerate one thing.
  • Study your character’s emotional make-up. Exaggerate one thing.
  • Study your character’s actions. Exaggerate one thing.
  • Study your character’s background. Exaggerate one thing.

Tomorrow, the 2nd V of Fiction, Voice.

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