So what does Adele’s song ‘Hello’ have to do with writing a novel? Apart from the fact that her music is fabulous and that she collected her MBE two people in front of me, I don’t know much about her.
What I do know is that her song ‘Hello’ achieves what all writers want to do: identify a high concept and make that resonate with the maximum amount of people. ‘Hello’ is about past love and regrets and it’s full of scalable emotion. It leaves us (well me, anyway) wondering who had hurt her so much for her to be able to convey that feeling so well.
Just like Adele’s song works on multi levels – the music, singing and genre as well as the meaning and the context – a novel needs to speak about life and what that means to people as well as being grammatically accurate and having an attractive cover.
So how does this happen? Is it at the idea stage or at the writing stage? Is it in the seed of the theme or does it develop with the story? Quite often meaning is not explicit. It can be so obscure that it’s invisible, but deeply evocative. A story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but an emotionally scalable story also has emotional depth.
The use of conflict in storytelling, as well as raising the stakes for the characters helps to weave a sense of risk and danger in a story, but in order to make a reader feel the longing for a lost love requires the writer to tap into a particular set of circumstances that many other people have felt. This is the shape of the story, and how it fits with others.
The challenge, then, is to find a story that is unique and then to make the emotional depth the same for everyone. So the same, but different. No pressure then.
Writing is a skill and a craft. Correct use of commas and semicolons may make some people cry with joy, but the exchange of emotions between the characters and the reader is the magical ingredient that can’t be bottled.
Adele has it right – many people on Twitter criticism that her music sounds ‘all the same’, but surely that’s the point? She’s found her voice and her brand and once again she’s found something that the majority of people can resonate with. But don’t take my word for it – see for yourself.