What’s Your Story?
Everyone has a story. Maybe it’s about you or your pet or
how your pet was a unique or touching rescue story. Maybe your pet rescued
someone or kept them safe. Maybe your pet was a therapy dog that was there for
someone as they recovered from an injury or illness. Maybe your pet has been
trained to perform some remarkable and useful tasks. Whatever it is, you have a
story within you; probably several or many! Your life is a story. You’ve
overcome conflict or adversity or beat some nearly unbeatable odds to achieve
some admirable goal. Maybe you have a story that has probably happened to many
people, but not everyone knows how to cope with it or seek help or summon the
courage to accomplish their goal. It might be that just by the fact that you
told your story and shared it with others, that you might change someone’s
life. You might inspire them to
see that they can achieve their goals; they can survive their storm or they can
entertain others and make them laugh or stretch their imaginations! It’s doable! Every author was once a first-time newbie trying to figure
out how to get his or her story out. You don’t have to know exactly what your
story is at first; only a general idea.
Just have fun and explore your characters and the world they live in;
write a few snippets of dialog then add to the dialog by envisioning and
setting up some scenes that you know probably belong somewhere in the story
even if you don’t know where. They’ll find their place eventually. Start with
just writing a scene, then another. They don’t have to be in order or related.
Just get practice at doing that much.
Maybe you just have a short story to tell that’s
just one particular incident or scene.
Maybe it’s a bit more and you write a several page short story;
basically a chapter that could stand on its own and be entertaining. It’s an
episode from a bigger saga. Then take more time to do some lengthy
brainstorming to build the world of your story before you actually commit to
telling the story. Maybe you have a story that has taken place over many years
– great! You could even start in
the middle and set up the story and characters, then jump back in time a ways
to give more of the back-story, then pick up where you left off in the middle
and move forward.
I’ve put together a few of my favorite tips to inform and
remind writers about what is important; what really matters and a few things
about how to get your story to do what you want it to do. So read these over. Read them again.
Practice them and start writing!
Have fun with it because telling stories and sharing bits and pieces of
your life, your imagination, your fears, hopes and humor is one of the most
human things we do. We’re a story-telling bunch of fools! We’ve been telling
stories since we first learned how to grunt and how to draw pictures on cave
walls. Now get busy and tell your story!
Your audience is waiting!
Writing Tips for Helping the Story within You Escape!
should liberating not confining!
Forget the rules. Too often we are taught not to color outside the
lines. Don’t make mistakes, don’t
take risks. What happens, by age
eight we become little drones who barely question anything, soak or and
experience less each year and regurgitate meaningless facts and figures that we
are told will help us some day when we’re grown up. Instead of continuing that constricting mental drill,
write! Writing is fun! It is liberating. It is how we share our hopes, fears, thrills
and other aspects of our life, personality, spirituality and humor. Don’t worry about form, punctuation,
storyline or structure. Throw out
all the rules that limit you and just get ready to start to explore and run
wild around the expanses or your imagination. I read a quote from the author William Plomer: “Creativity
is the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected.” That’s it!
Connect the dots and see what picture forms. Rules hold you back.
Worry about technical details after the story or pass them off to a
reviewer or editor.
about what you love! If you
aren’t interested in a topic, an angle, an issue, an event or a locale, then
why are you wasting time writing about it. Your readers certainly won’t find it interesting if you
can’t write with knowledge, passion or excitement about it. Since I was a kid I’ve always heard the
mantra, write what you know about and write about what you love. I know about Collies and love them –
that’s easy! I also love martial
arts and I am a technology guy, by profession, so those are easy topics for
me. Find what you area of
knowledge, passion or expertise is and start writing. If it’s cooking that’s your passion, then instead of just
another cook book full of recipes, you could write about how you come up with
ideas for developing different types of recipes; what’s the creative process
that successful chef’s use to develop a mouthwatering recipe? Then you can accompany that thought
line with some examples of some of your best reifies. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
every day to improve and keep the creative juices flowing! Ask and answer lots of questions about
your characters so you’ll know more about your story before you start to
actually write it. There are many writing exercises that you can use to
improve your ability to express yourself.
What they all boil down to is trying to free your mind, make you think
and ask lots of questions. As you
answer these questions, you begin to create snippets of dialog. You don’t know where in the story it
will go or even if it will go, but it’s an idea and at the very least, it might
just help you better understand a character, a scene or answer other questions
that you’ve had trouble coming up with responses to. Here are a few questions you can answer about your story’s
hero or villain:
What is the most exciting thing he has ever
What embarrasses him the most?
What is he or she most afraid of.
What was the most life-changing event he has
What is he most proud of?
Where did he grow up?
What is the thing that he loves more than
anything in the world?
What is the best decision she has ever made?
What is the stupidest thing she has ever done?
What does he want more than anything else?
There are many more things you
could come up with. Play twenty
questions. As you begin to answer these questions, you begin to see who your
character is. What conflicts or
dilemmas does he or she face. This
begins to get at the central theme of the story. As you uncover other conflicts
that are not the central one, you begin to create potential sub-plots that are
useful in defining and evolving your character and through the course of the
story you can resolve these sub-plots or leave some unresolved for later
stories. The questions above begin to paint a picture of a life that has been
lived rather than some phony two-dimensional profile of a person.
worry about punctuation or vocabulary – that can be addressed when it’s
time. Just get the ideas or scene on paper or on your computer screen, don’t
lose the flow of your ideas by worrying about technical things when it’s the
wrong time. Resist the urge to edit as you write.
about the storyline! Explore
your characters and the world they live in. Answer those questions about them
and the places where the story takes place. Be loose about the structure and the sequence of
events. You may have ideas for particular
scenes or snippets of dialog.
Write them down every time they pop into your head. Keep a notebook handy for this. As you
ask more questions, the scenes and snippets will gradually start to come
together a bit. Think of it as a
cloud of debris in space that is circling. All the ingredients are there for creating a planet, but
it’s just not time. Be patient.
The story is within you, it just can’t come out all at once. You have to tease it out over time and
gradually the planet of your story will begin to form and solidify into a new
world! How’s that for creating a
is not a logical timeline that you create. It creates itself and scenes begin to cluster around you
central themes and dilemmas and conflicts as you create the characters,
snippets of dialog, scenes and locations and answer more and more questions
every day. Spend at least a month or more exploring and playing around with
your characters and the elements of the story, conflicts, fears, dilemmas etc.,
before you even worry about how it all fits together. The more ideas you begin to describe and write down, the
more things will start to take shape.
Keep in mind that, the sooner you try to
start telling a story, the longer it will take. You will get partway into the story
and become stuck because you have not spent ample time up front just having fun
connecting the dots and playing with the characters and their lives.
has to be someone you can care about in some way and begin to root for, but
he or she has to change by the end of the story. At first, you may not like the
hero of the story, he may be a jerk or obnoxious, but eventually, you may begin
to reveal to your readers some redeeming qualities that maybe you can begin to
relate to. You might not have like
him at first, but over the course of the story, your opinion as the reader
begins to change and you find that the character begins to grow on you as you
learn more about him or as he begins to transform. Eventually you find yourself
rooting for the hero, hoping he can get his act together in time to save the
day or at least in order to transform into someone more likeable than he
started out to be. There has to be something that makes your character someone
your readers can care about. If no
one cares about the characters or the dilemmas they face or their desires or
goals and you can’t strike an emotional chord or bond with your audience, then
you have nothing.
travel an arc; they have to evolve and change or there is no point. How do
they change? They change their
perspective about a person, an event, a situation. They gain new knowledge. They have some life-changing
experience that affects them in some way that they are never the same
afterwards. That can be positive
or negative, but there has to be change or there is no journey – you’re just
killing time and your reader’s interest.
every day. If you aren’t reading others short stories or novels you aren’t
growing. Your well will soon be dry.
10. Minimize adverbs, make the dialog work
harder. Describe the
character’s actions and behavior leading up to their line. If you describe the character’s
behavior or delivery after the dialog it’s anti-climactic. Your mind, or your
reader’s mind will have a tendency to replay the dialog in their mind after
reading the adverbs or narrative just to visualize how it might have occurred,
now that they understand the character’s mood or behavior. So at least switch the order and put
any narrative or adverbs BEFORE the dialog to set the stage for the line. It’s like the start of a new scene. You describe the scene in a broad sense
so readers will know where the scene is taking place, then you get to the
character’s dialog. Do the same
thing for individual dialog and set up the line first. It will have more impact. The scene
will flow better and the adverbs after the dialog won’t slow down your reader.
You can draw the reader in and set up the line and the mood of the character
which will help the reader envision what they’re doing and feeling or thinking
before they deliver their line, then the line will be more effective. Example, Jane sat at the table waiting,
“Where have you been?” she asked suspiciously. When you first see the line, you don’t
know if she’s worried, suspicious, angry, generally curious or what. Instead, lock that part of the scene
down a bit first. Jane
sat alone at the table staring at the empty chair in front of her. She held her
head up with her fist pressed against her cheek, resting her elbow on the edge
of the table. The expression on her face showed her obvious disappointment. She
could not believe he had stood her up. She stirred her coffee aimlessly as she
pondered what to do next when she heard the door open. She looked up in time to
see Frank hurrying toward her with a smile. She instantly formed an angry stare
that followed him all the way across the room as he approached the table. He
stopped at the table, noticing her scowl. He paused silently for an instant and
braced mentally himself. His smile turned to worry and then she snapped at him,
“Where in the world have you been?”
This narrative preceding that single line sets up the scene, the
mood and reveals details like the fact that she’s been sitting there waiting
and apparently there was a rendezvous planned; that Frank was late for some
reason and that her first reaction is to become angry rather than to at least
be thankful that he is ok and then maybe ask what happened before deciding
whether or not to become angry. A
lot of these facts could have been explained after the fact, but setting up the
scene this way draws the reader in, creates a mood and gets you up to date
first, before she even speaks so there is a bit of a climax or crescendo to
this short opening of the scene.
Now you have created a sense of anticipation about what will happen next
and where this will all go rather than providing a bunch of mechanical details
after the dialog to explain what just happened.
11. Don’t be obvious and don’t give it away all
at once. You don’t have to be blunt and blatant and boring about describing
a scene, but subtle, gradual and almost coy. Instead of, It was windy
and sleeting heavily outside. Try, It
was morning and the wind
slammed pellets of sleet against the side of the house creating a thousand tiny
drumrolls. Instead of, It was springtime and everything was in
bloom, try, The winter snows had
already thawed and melted away into tiny rivers and pools everywhere across the
region as the days became longer and warmer. The first buds and sprouts began
to form at the tips of branches of trees and bushes. This approach draws the reader into the scene
gradually without just dropping it in the lap and saying, “Yep, it’s
springtime”. An even better approach
than describing the scene in a vacuum is to put the character into the scene.
For example, It was still mid-morning
as Jim sat, disheveled and hunched over on the edge of his bed; still drained
and groggy from another late night working the case. He forced himself to sip
some coffee as he tuned in to the sound of a thousand tiny drumrolls created by
the howling wind as it slammed pellets of sleet against the outside of the motel
window. This approach
still describes the scene in a less obvious way and helps paint a more vivid
picture of the scene, but more importantly, helps put the character AND the
reader right into the scene with the character and makes the scene more alive
and active than simply describing the weather. It also helps move the story along a little and create a bit
of a sense of anticipation about what is going to happen next. Notice, also,
the use of the adverb howling to
describe the wind. Howling creates more a sense that the wind is alive or has a
different quality to it than simply calling it a strong or blustery wind. Slamming
pellets of sleet also implies almost a sense of active intent as if the wind
were a person and a strength of force which is more intriguing and violent
sounding than simply saying that a strong wind blew sleet against the window.
Don’t tell everything about the scene in one blatant sentence, lure the reader
in, and draw them into the scene like a camera slowly zooming in on a shot in a
movie. This gives them time to
notice everything. Gradually expose the details, facts and circumstances of the
scene and the character you have placed within it.
12. Every story has some form of conflict.
A character may have inner conflict or conflict with other characters or
nature; you know, man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself. That’s essentially it. There are no other choices, but it’s
how you combine these ideas. When
there is conflict, you want to provide your readers with how the hero will
approach the conflict. If there is
really something he wants or needs, his first attempts might not succeed and he
may have to change is approach or his perception of the conflict. Also, remember there is a difference
between a problem and a dilemma. A
problem or series of problems can help show how a character behaves, how they
handle situations or how they may begin to grow or change. A dilemma is generally not something
that can be solved by the end of the story. The purpose of the dilemma is not to solve it, but to help
the hero (and the readers) see how to approach it differently or how to change
their perspective of it. When the
approach or the perspective changes, the hero evolves and we see a different
hero than we did at the beginning of the story. He has traveled his arc;
something about him has changed and it is that change and growth that helps
give readers a sense that they went along with their hero on a journey worth
13. Do your homework. If you are writing about a real place,
then do research on it. Even if you’ve never been there. Use Google maps and switch from street
view to satellite view so you can see what it looks like and even tour the
streets. Notice the way the streets, buildings, houses look; what types of
stores, markets, parks are there.
You can pick the neighborhoods where the story takes place and describe
them accurately! Read up on the
history of your locales, what is the current culture, peoples, tribes,
ethnicities, foods, music, forms of entertainment, local economy, landscape
etc. Get to know the world of your
characters better and it will help you tell a richer story. But be careful not to throw in
historical facts, figures or anecdotes unless they are tied somehow to a
character or some part of the story.
Don’t get off topic!
14. Create the visual (use metaphors, analogies)
Instead of just describing an
action by telling what is happening, relate it to something that can help
create a more powerful visual in the reader’s mind. Instead of, They
came running up to him shining their flashlights. Try this, Finally catching up to him, some
of Jack’s pals and the Scout leaders came bounding along waving flashlights in
every direction like the spotlights of some Hollywood movie premiere. When
describing nature, try to give it
more personality and describe nature’s actions and behavior in terms that would
normally describe a person’s behavior or actions. Instead of, A
strong wind was blowing outside,
try this, Outside the wind howled like a coyote lonely for his mate.
15. Set everything up. Think about writing
your novel as though you are looking at the earth from space. You see the whole planet, that’s the
place where your characters live, set up the characters, who they are, what
they’re about, situations that demonstrate aspects of their personality that
you will play on later in the story. After the main characters and opening act
is set up, introduce the conflict or dilemma of the story, set up each scene,
place the characters in the scene early in the scene description if not
directly at the beginning of a scene, don’t give everything away at once, feed
out information gradually as it’s needed, just in time, but some information
can be provided early because you want to use it maybe for subtle foreshadowing
and refer back to it later. Zoom
in more into the planet and where the conflict is clear and you are setting up
each scene carefully with mood, weather, geography of the scene, props, etc., then
when the dialog starts, if it isn’t the actual start of the scene, set up each
line and try to minimize the use of adverbs after the dialog line. Set up, set up, set up.