If you could only teach ONE writing lesson for the rest of your life, what would you teach?
My answer: Contrast.
5 Suspicously Specific Reasons Contrast Is the Most Important Rule of Writing
- Contrast is the key to a high-concept premise
- Contrast improves nearly every element of story
- Contrast is compelling to readers
- Contrast is inherent in the understanding of story
- Contrast works at both the micro and macro level of story
By definition, contrast combines opposites.
It’s intriguing because it’s unexpected. It grabs attention, generates curiosity and keeps readers glued to the page. If you want to design a bestseller idea, use contrast. If you want to improve a sentence, paragraph, description, character or scene – contrast every time.
After all, most stories involve contrast on a macro level. Cinderella is both peasant and princess. Alice travels to Wonderland. The lesson of the Three Little Pigs hides in the contrast between building materials.
Harry Potter is regular kid and famous wizard. Jason Bourne is a man grappling with his identity and a super spy. The Hulk is nerd and monster. Contrast, contrast, contrast…
This means the very anatomy of story is infused with contrast.
4 Simple Ways to Leverage the Power of Contrast in Your Stories
- Ask, “What is the opposite?”
- Ask, “What’s the least likely setting/character/solution?”
- Design stories so that the character is at odds with others, the setting and the goal/story problem
- Experiment with sentences by combining opposite words
A final note: contrast works because it juxtaposes an established pattern, belief or expectation. Endless contrast, ironically, blurs into generic sameness. As Seth Godin points out, “Purple cows are interesting because they are different. If every cow is purple, they are invisible” (paraphrased).