Finding Your Novel’s Universal Truth

As writers, we strive to think of unique characters in great settings who have original reactions to problems. We need our stories to stand out, to be fresh, not the same old. All well and good, but it’s equally important to tap into at least one universal truth.
Writing Tip for Today: As you begin a new year in writing, consider some ways that universal truths help you connect to your readers:

  • Stimulate Universal Emotions with Senses. A universal truth–often expressed as a moral or adage (Crime doesn’t pay; Love conquers all) helps to lift your “original” characters & story to a place where readers can easily connect. The emotions are the primary vehicle for this connection. Add to this some sensory memory (the smell of bread baking; the sounds of bombs falling) and you have a can’t miss connection.
  • Know Your Characters. Readers may not appreciate the connection if you force them to keep changing which universal truth to embrace too quickly. Allow your characters to embody the metaphor or truth you seek to illustrate. If you know your characters on a deep level–what they will or will not do, what motivates them–you are less likely to confuse readers with mixed messages about what matters in the story.
  • Simple Is Okay. Writers sometimes are horrified to know the story they strive to make original can be distilled into a corny old saying. Yet this is exactly what every reader wants–a sense that in a world of uncertainties, you can count on these universal truths. Don’t worry if you “truth” sounds cliche or overworked. This part of novel writing demands just that. Save your unique take for character tags, fresh dialogue or twisty plots.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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