Do you enjoy writing? Do you have a horse story lurking within? Why not tap into your love of horses and learn to use your equine experience to write powerful, memorable prose?
Connie Johnson Hambley
Like everyone else, horse people love a good story. Some of us go a step further and yearn to tell our own stories or write our own books. Like riding, however, writing takes a disciplined approach to master, along with lots of practice. Fortunately, we can build on what we already know to make the overall learning process go smoothly.
The course stretches in front of you. You plan your approach, seeing the obstacle, knowing more hurdles are ahead. You soar over the first and then stumble, hoping to recover enough to cross the finish clean. Each barrier grows in size and complexity, when, finally, in one last Herculean effort, you land clear, the test of your skills complete.
Are you riding a Grand Prix?
No. You’re writing a novel!
1. Know the course
What story do you want to tell? Is it a children’s book about how a pony changed a little boy’s life? Was there something in your grandmother’s equine life that you found particularly universal and inspiring? Do you fantasize about that hunky stable guy, or are you planning out a perfect crime with a horse as the getaway ride? Knowing what story you want to bring to life is important, but that task can be as amorphous as looking at a Grand Prix arena filled with jumps and not knowing where to begin.
Here’s the key. Knowing you want to write a children’s book is great, but the best books tell more than a simple story. They have a message. A little boy may learn to care for a pony, but the message is what gels the story together. This message may be as basic as how mastering a task builds self-esteem or how caring for a living thing nurtures empathy. You have to know the bigger picture in order to guide your story over the inevitable hurdles.
2. Plan your approach
You might be able to approach an obstacle or story point straight on, but does that strategy set you up for the next turn? In writing your story, you must approach the plot – and the characters who bring it to life – with clarity and a keen strategy.
I write suspense novels, so my approach is particularly important. I need to keep my reader engaged and guessing. Writing a character who is clearly the bad guy will make for a boring story. I like my villains to look like nice people. Maybe I introduce a character by showing her feeding a stray puppy with the last half of her sandwich. Aww…good person! But, chapters later, I show her robbing a bank while expertly wielding an antique rifle. Wait, what? My approach to this character gives me a lot to work with as a writer. Is she desperate? Cold and calculating? Unfolding those answers will give the story complexity and depth.
Oh, and Grand Prix arenas don’t allow winged horses and unicorns. Grounding the completion of the story with well-placed and well-paced turns knits it together in a way that looks effortless and easy – but we writers know better.
3. Clear the hurdles
You’re mid-story and have approached all the obstacles perfectly. Then, at the peak of a scene’s arc, you see a landing that puts your story in jeopardy.
Do you grab a fistful of mane, close your eyes and let gravity do the work? Or is it time to bail? Neither.
The reader has knowledge you did not put on the page, and may see the obstacle differently than you have described. Gravity puts inevitable force on the direction of your story, and you can use this to your advantage by creating questions. Letting your reader anticipate the perils increases their suspense. Little boys might not realize that putting electric clippers next to a water bucket is dangerous, for example, but the reader does. As another example, a reader can worry that an animal lover made homeless may take desperate actions.
A good story has more triple combinations than Oxers.* Multiple and varied obstacles make for a more satisfying reading experience.
*a hedge with a guardrail running along one side at a distance of two or three feet and often a ditch along the other side to prevent cattle from passing through it
4. Land the beast
Being off-kilter when landing, even by a little, is frightening. This is where grit kicks in. Tighten your core, take a deep breath and project confidence. Your off-balance landing may be exactly what you needed to set you up correctly for the next obstacle. The crowd may gasp as you slip around a hairpin turn, but you know where you’re going. Show them the little boy reaching for the clippers after spilling the water bucket. As a writer, you need to trust yourself. This is your story and you’re the only person who can see it through to the end.
5. Finish strong
Did you veer off course or drop a rail? Is the story from your head now on the page? Every Grand Prix rider has a coach. Seek advice. Edit. Ride the course again and make adjustments. After all, you know the clippers were unplugged and that all ends well! So raise your crop-shaped pen above your head and take that victory lap.
Learn more about Connie’s books and events conniejohnsonhambley.com or follow her at bit.ly/facebookcjhambley and twitter.com/ConnieHambley.
All images from Connie Johnson Hambley’s web site: bit.ly/facebookcjhambley
except: antique rifle Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/405351Accessed 23 August 2018
Image from Smoky, The Story of a Cowhorse http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks07/0700111h.html