Icebergs. I was thinking about icebergs this week. The movie Titanic came to my mind, dragging with it the factual research I did just because I love learning about real events. That and more flowed through my brain in a moment of time along with the metaphor for writing a great story.
In case you’ve never thought about an iceberg, let me explain its deception. What you see floating on top of the water is only a fraction of what lies beneath. A great story should be like that. The first page expands to the first chapter and holds your interest. Then as you turn the pages you go deep below the surface and find out the unexpected, the hidden things. Those parts of the story that bring it to life and take you on the adventure.
The iceberg which the Titanic hit was unexpected. It appeared smaller in the dark than it was, and the tragic adventure awaiting those unfortunate enough to draw near became the fate of the passengers.
Now, I’m not saying our novels should make people regret they read it. Rather it should surprise them. The first page is in the middle of the action. The reader sees the action and wonders why and what is happening. If we throw a lot of backstory in the first chapter, then it resembles an inverted iceberg where all the height and breadth of it is there for all to see. Classic authors like Jane Austin and Charles Dickens began their books in such a way, telling us the why of the story and revealing the characters’ personality before we enter the scene.
The part beneath the water line is what makes the iceberg such a formidable foe for a ship or submarine that gets too close. Keeping that thought in mind consider the reader who discovers more of the characters and the story theme with every turn of the page. Now they are drilling down below the waterline and discovering more things of interest. An iceberg contains remnants of times past in its frozen layers. Once part of a larger ice mass, it now floats free in the water. As the reader turns pages of a novel he will discover the connectivity of characters with their past, the evil behind the idyllic setting, or the seeming uncrossable chasm between two lovers.
The difference between the massive ice and a novel is the conclusion. The iceberg will over time dissolve. What a boring fate. In contrast, a novel concludes with loose ends of the story resolved and the theme played, hopefully giving the reader a feeling of satisfaction as they reach the end. Or even better, a desire to read more from the author.