Make Readers Stop And Go “Wow!”

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Readers will decide what stands out about your writing, but thinking about creating “Wow!” moments helps you focus on writing them. What makes something so special that it stands out?

What gives you a “Wow!” moment as a reader? What makes you stop and reflect in awe? What makes you remember parts of a story long after you’ve finished a book?

The best Wow! moments can be so rare, you might only find them in one out of every ten books. The ultimate best go down in history as classics.

How many Wow! moments have you read? How many have you written?

Wow! concepts, scenarios, and plot points

Wow! can happen at all levels of a story and the more the better.

How about a doctor who brings a monster brought to life from the body parts of dead people? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a wow concept.

What about dinosaurs? Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park concept is full of wow.

As for a wow scenario, how about the idea of wanting to kill your true love to save her immortal soul because she’s been bitten by Count Dracula? This is what Lucy’s poor fiancé decides he needs to do in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, another classic with a wow concept.

As for wow plot points, how about the scare of a pendulum holding a knife swinging over you, lowering inch by inch, that will cut you in two if you can’t escape? This, a pit, and the Inquisition is what Edgar Allan Poe picked to instill terror into readers of his short story, The Pit and the Pendulum.

Great authors fill even the smallest cracks of stories with wow. Homer, in The Odyssey, has Odysseus visit the underworld on his journey home from the Trojan War. Of course, he gets to talk to famous ghosts. How about Sisyphus, sentenced to roll a boulder up a hill just to have it roll back every night? Or Tityus, sentenced to have vultures come and eat his liver for eternity. Or poor Tantalus, who stands to his chin in a lake but can never drink?

When enough wow is packed into a single sentence, it often ends up as a Kindle highlight. What was your last favorite in a book you read?

Remember, Wow! is highly subjective, so let’s think of it as the very best of what you might find while red pen praising.

I loved this from Fredrik Backman’s bestseller, A Man Called Ove. Ove is remembering meeting his wife:

And that laughter of hers, which, for the rest of his life, would make him feel as if someone was running around barefoot on the inside of his breast.

You’ll have your own list of wows.

Creating “Wow!” moments

Thinking concretely about creating “Wow!” moments helps you focus on writing them. What makes something so special it stands out? The creativity, the cleverness, the emotional impact, the shock?

No matter the reason, these moments are so special because they resonate with us as readers. They can either be something we love to hear, expressed in a new way, or something we’ve never heard before but are now happy we have.

You should aim for Wow! right from the first moment you start a project. It might take you a while to find it, but always aim for it. It helps to be reading and collecting these moments so you have a library of examples to hold up as yardsticks.

Your Wow! moments will be a result of your experiences, imagination, moral compass, aesthetics and purpose in writing.

Editing for Wow!

While you should be aiming for stellar story parts right from the start of any project, you can also take inspiration from what you have and add it as you go. Early on, this helps the process of developing your ideas, and later it’s about distilling and heightening your text.

Make a list of all the best parts of your draft. If your list is blank, you have work to do. If you are farther along, your list will show you the shape and purpose of your story and where you have best developed it.

Your list might be long if you think you have lots of terrific sentences, or imagery, or clever word plays. What about your plot? What’s your best twist or turn?

Can you extend your list or change the ranking if you edit your story grammar? Could you add something extra or craft a twist or remove some information that would give it more zing? Could you invent new moments from creative combinations of your existing elements?

Wow moments are often the result of writing about eternal and universal topics. If you don’t have them in your story, you might have a harder time wowing readers.

Wow! is often about building scenarios with complex facets. This takes a careful set up. If you are just hopping from moment to moment without a thread to connect them, it will be harder to achieve any kind of emotional ignition.

Also, you might write passages you are proud of and not get credit from readers. What one reader finds riveting another might find distasteful or downright offensive. History is full of famously banned books and books that forged new ground. Don’t compromise and write what you think is best.

In the end, readers will decide what stand out most, but you should work to plant as much zing on purpose as you can.

Dawn FieldDawn Field (July 20, 1969 – May 2, 2020)
In late 2015, Dawn Field submitted her first post to the BookBaby Blog. A molecular biologist, Senior Research Fellow of the NERC Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, guest professor at the University of Goeteborg in Sweden, and co-author of the book,
Biocode: The New Age of Genomics, Dr. Field came to us hoping to find a forum to share her experience and love of language with an audience of writers. While many unsolicited submissions don’t quite meet the needs (or standards) of our readers, something about Dawn’s writing stood out. I posted the article, and to my grateful amazement that initial contribution flourished into a five-year collaboration resulting in nearly 100 posts published on the BookBaby Blog. Sadly, on May 2nd, a voice that was an inspiration to so many of us in the self-publishing community was lost when Dr. Field suddenly and tragically passed away at the age of 50. We will continue to publish the pieces Dawn had submitted (she was always months ahead of schedule) in honor of her commitment to teaching and to the craft of writing. Rest in peace, Dawn.

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  1. Dearest Dawn. Rest in Peace. Have emailed several times and not heard from you for a few months. I did wonder if you were ill. Will treasure your input forever. I am so sorry I didn’t complete giving you feedback on the Fictionary site. So sad. You never received the last update! Blame it on the Covid lock-down with kids underfoot. Book Baby, thank you for letting your readers know the sad news. If I ever get the story published that you, Dawn, had such great suggestions for; as well as much criticism, mixed with commendation, it will be dedicated to you. I’m sure many other writers you have inspired will feel the same way. Your being so glad I initially reached out to you has new meaning now. My being so grateful you reached back! I’m blessed to have known you.

  2. I was so fortunate to have worked with Dawn for almost two years, as she quickly became both an inspiring mentor and a generous friend. We Skyped and emailed so often that it was as if she was looking over my shoulder as I tried to achieve the heights she encourages in all writers. As we exchanged ideas about books to read and blog articles she was working on, she exhibited the sort of energy and intelligence that only someone who truly loves the challenges of good writing could manage. She has made me a better writer but left me and, I am certain, so many others, devastated at her sudden and tragically early loss.

  3. Wow! This is the first post I think I’ve read of Dawn’s and it is so helpful. I think the greatest desire of all writers, all artists is to stand out and hit the heart. So sad to hear of her passing.


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