I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
Tag Archives: head
Staying in POV
Let’s say your story is being told from Sadie’s point of view. She’s your main character. As the story progresses, you have her friend approach and you write it like this:
Jeremy walked straight toward her. “Great to see you, Sadie.” His words couldn’t express what he was thinking. She had lost all that weight and bordered on having a model’s figure. Now he really wanted to bed her. He decided he’d treat her real sweet this time.
Notice that the above paragraph tells us what Jeremy is thinking. He is not the main character. Sadie is the main character. She cannot possibly know what Jeremy is thinking, so you cannot include it written that way.
You can, however, have Sadie read Jeremy’s facial expression and mannerisms and react to it from her point of view. She can show the reader what Jeremy does that will tell the reader what’s on Jeremy’s mind. What Jeremy may think and feel doesn’t have to be spelled out. It can be interpreted by the main character. Like this:
Sadie watched Jeremy walk toward her. His sauntering gait gave him enough time to notice her new figure and to feel his glands working as he eyed her from head to toe and back again. She knew him. He’d always made innuendoes about wanting to hop in bed again and renewing their sorry relationship.
“Great to see you, Sadie,” Jeremy said. His eyes had that hungry look. He always looked that way, as if sex was the only thing her image triggered in his mind. Maybe it was, but being used and cast aside was no longer part of her new image of self-respect.
Sadie stepped away when he reached for her. “Don’t try to touch me, Jerry. We washed up a long time ago and you’re still trying to own me.”
Jeremy’s expression went hollow. “You got me all wrong,” he said. The corner of his mouth twitched. That always happened when he was faced with the truth.
Staying in the POV character’s head gives you a chance to create a character with some smarts, at least, enough to intuit other characters’ actions and thoughts. It also gives you a greater chance of added detail and some interesting fleshing out of your prose that makes the action come alive. Notice that in the above short paragraphs, Jeremy actually confirms what Sadie has interpreted from him. It’s much more interesting.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.
To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.
I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:
Afterward, she went on her way.
If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:
Afterward, she sauntered away.
Afterward, she slipped away
Read this phrase:
Danced across the floor
Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…
Did a two-step across the floor
Waltzed across the floor
She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone
Felt is also quite common.
She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…
She slid her hand between the seats
Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:
The thought of dying came to mind.
…with something like this:
The thought of bleeding to death came to mind
The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.
The above has two words to watch. We could have used:
The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.
Here’s another sentence with two words:
The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.
The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.
All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.
Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
When Not to Edit
Sometimes we don’t feel like writing, or we’re frustrated with what we’ve produced. This is NOT the time to switch to editing.
A friend said when she’s stuck in her plot, she edits. Okay, editing what you’ve just written is part of creating a scene or the story. Oftentimes editing triggers new ideas and gets you out of being stuck. We writers do this all the time; edit what we’ve written, to assure we’ve said what we meant, in order to proceed further.
However, as an editor, pure editing of a large or total body of work is not good at certain times.
Never edit when:
It’s late in the day
When you’re in a hurry
Have eye strain
When someone waits for you to finish
If you wish to take a chance with your own work and edit under these conditions, keep in mind that you may chop up your work. It could turn out to be something you never intended.
One of those distractions, like when you’re hungry, can be dealt with immediately. Have you never eaten a snack or lunch over your keyboard? Do you have a glass or cup of something satisfying sitting on your desk at all times?
It’s crucial that when editing other writers’ prose that you are in the best frame of mind, attempting to understand what the other person has created. The above list of times when not to edit tend to create a less caring attitude. Get through the work and be done with it. That is not good enough, not even with your own work.
Take a break. Wait till the next day. Read a book. Whatever. You wouldn’t want someone editing your work under those conditions; don’t even do that to yourself. Most often when writing your own stories, editing can go too far afield when you’re distracted. You may end up not thinking through any changes and altering the story in ways you never intended it to go. Have a clear head when editing.
When editing your manuscript after a publishing house asks for changes and sets a deadline, you may have to prop up your eyelids if time is of the essence. In that case, you should happily get through your work in spite of the deadline because a publisher likes your story. Yay!
The more you write and create, the more you’re likely to get your ideas down closer to what you wish to say. Editing will be easier and your prose may not need drastic changes that may happen when careless. Have a clear head.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
More Words to Lose
Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.
In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.
“I told him, I said, be careful.”
“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”
I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.
“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”
“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”
As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.
Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.
Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.
However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”
She thought she wanted to go along.
He said he didn’t want to go.
When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.
Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.
If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.
Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.
I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.
MA: My guest today is Alan Simon, the author or co-author of 30 books dating back to the early 1980s. His writing career began with the 1st edition of How to be A Successful Computer Consultant (McGraw-Hill) that sold approximately 200,000 copies in 4 editions over the next 15 years. He is the author of three titles in the “For Dummies” franchise series and has written extensively about technology and business topics. In 2009 Alan began experimenting in self-publishing with Blocking and Tackling Your Way to Management Success in which he set 40 fundamental management lessons against a backdrop of 40 stories from the history of his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2010, Alan branched out into fiction with the publication of his first two novels including The First Christmas of the War, set at Christmastime, 1941 – only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Alan currently lives in Phoenix and in the past has lived in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Denver, and northeastern Pennsylvania.
Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background…the prequel if you would to your writing career.
AS: The best way to describe my professional background is to quote The Beatles: “The long and winding road…” I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA until my family moved to Tucson, Arizona just before my 16th birthday. I attended college at Arizona State in Tempe and then went to graduate school at the University of Arizona back in Tucson before heading off to Colorado Springs where I spent four years as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. In the Air Force I wrote software for one of the real-life “War Games” systems, referring to the early 1980s movie in which Matthew Broderick breaks into Cheyenne Mountain’s computers to play “thermonuclear war.” After my Air Force days I worked for a series of technology and consulting companies in a variety of roles, including several as a national or global practice leader in business intelligence and data warehousing. I began my own firm – currently called Thinking Helmet, Inc. – in 2006.
In many ways my writing career began as an “accident.” When I was an Air Force officer in the early 1980s I started a small computer consulting business on the side mostly so I could stay up to date with the technology of the then-brand new “microcomputers” that were very different than the old-fashioned mainframes we used in the Air Force. One day I was thinking about all of the tasks I had to do to set up my company and learn about new technology and suddenly thought there might be a book in the making there. I wrote a proposal, sent it off to McGraw-Hill, and presto! Book deal! (Little did I know the publishing game wasn’t quite that easy…)
MA: Well, I definitely have a soft spot for fellow Air Force vets, and I am very familiar with Cheyenne Mountain during my work in Air Force Space Command nearby. With such a technical and non-fiction writing background, how did you end up writing fiction?
AS: I began “dabbling” in fiction approximately 25 years ago, sequestered in a near-deserted hotel in the mountains of Colorado in late May of 1985. I had gone there to spend a week finishing up the final manuscript for my first book, How to be a Successful Computer Consultant. (Thinking back, my long-ago writing getaway in the Rockies was sort of a combination of two works from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King: “The Shining” meets “Misery” !)
Whenever I’d take a break from polishing that manuscript during that trip, I’d shift to write two or three more draft pages for an idea I had for a “potboiler” novel; something that in retrospect was heavily influenced by the writing style and typical plot lines from popular writers of the day such as Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I shelved that book for all eternity shortly thereafter, but over the next two decades spent thousands of hours – and wrote the proverbial million words of fiction – on any number of long-dormant projects, as fiction writing grew into a deep passion of mine.
MA: Speaking of The Shining, my kids and I once spent a night in the “Stephen King” room at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where King stayed and wrote the book. Sadly, nothing spooky happened during our stay there. So tell us about your novels.
AS: I wrote two novels in parallel with each other over a period of 6+ years; both were self-published this past year. The first is entitled The First Christmas of the War and is a family saga set at Christmastime, 1941…only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Beyond the overarching and terrifying news coming back from the war front, each family member has his or her own “mini-drama” going on, and the story interweaves the “macro” and “micro” plots in a day-by-day format beginning with the Saturday before Christmas and ending the day after Christmas.
The other novel is entitled Unfinished Business and just like The First Christmas of the War, it’s set in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I like to think of Unfinished Business as “a darker Bridges of Madison County story” that begins in flashback with a brief wartime affair that takes place in 1942. The plot of the story is based around the resumption of that affair nine years later, in 1951, when Roseanne DeMarco’s steelworker husband is called up from the Army Reserves and set off to the Korean War…just as her long-ago “friend” reappears in Pittsburgh as she’s struggling to make ends meet.
MA: I have a hard enough time writing one story, so I can’t imagine what two parallel ones must be like. Who are your protagonists?
AS: In The First Christmas of the War I’m fortunate enough to have a number of main characters who essentially are an “ensemble cast” as the book’s protagonist. The family’s patriarch – Gerald Coleman – is patterned after one of my grandfathers. He’s a shoemaker who is fortunate enough to have made a decent enough living during the Depression. His wife, Irene Coleman, is the classic homemaker of the day…she runs her household and her family and is always looking out for the best interests of every family member. The eldest son, Jonathan, is patterned after characters such as those played by Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage in the 1980s movie Racing with the Moon…he knows with certainty he’s headed off to war soon and is trying to come to grips with this sudden reality. The rest of the family members are all “demographically appropriate” for 1941 children and teenagers.
In Unfinished Business I tried my best to get inside the head of Roseanne DeMarco. Her husband is suddenly sent off to war, she has no safety net to fall back on, and in general she’s sleepwalking through life…and here comes this person from the past who was her “partner” in an illicit yet exciting brief period of her young life. Throughout the book she’s conflicted between the renewal of this excitement and her increasing guilt about what she’s doing while her husband is away at war.
MA: They both sound interesting. Who are the antagonists in the stories?
AS: The First Christmas of the War doesn’t have an antagonist…unless you want to think of Hitler and Tojo as off-the-pages antagonists who made the story (and the war) possible!
In Unfinished Business Frank Donaldson – the main with whom Roseanne DeMarco renews her affair – is very much an antagonist, but a carefully constructed one. I patterned his character after that of Noel Airman in Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel, Marjorie Morningstar. At first he seems suave, debonair, the man of Roseanne DeMarco’s dreams who has returned to her…but increasingly his fascination in the story with Jack Kerouac (then a brand new novelist) becomes symbolic of his own character flaws.
MA: How much of your real life’s story influenced your writing?
AS: When I moved from Pittsburgh to Tucson just before my 16th birthday, I was very homesick for my original city and spent many hours in the high school and public libraries reading books about Pittsburgh and its history. Since I planned to go into the military in one way or another, I was also very interested in the World War II era and the aftermath, including the boom years of the 1950s. So my fascination with mid-20th century Pittsburgh formed the foundation for both of these novels. I spent many hours researching the facts and tidbits for both stories, though when appropriate I took a bit of poetic license in the interest of moving the story along.
In both books – especially The First Christmas of the War – I did use my real-life great-grandfather’s produce business in Pittsburgh as a plot vehicle, and in First Christmas had eldest son Jonathan working side-by-side with my real-life great-uncles in a couple of scenes. I dedicated that book to those great-uncles, all of them gone now, as members of the “greatest generation” who (to use the words of the book’s dedication) “sacrificed much of their youth to the Second World War.”
MA: So what’s next for you? You are so versatile, I can imagine either a novel or some techno-geek book coming soon!
MA: The biggest challenge I have is getting my head and hands around a much-too-full list of to-be-written projects for 2011. In all seriousness, I have a list of about 15 business, technology and management topics; 25-30 ideas for novels and short stories; and another non-fiction, self-help oriented title based on my own personal close call on 9/11. (A schedule quirk put me in Pittsburgh for a speech that morning, scheduled to fly to San Francisco from there that afternoon; otherwise I almost certainly would have been on United Flight 93 since I was shuttling between projects and proposals in New Jersey and the San Francisco bay area for the consulting company I worked for then.)
MA: Wow! I’m glad you missed the original flight, and it’s nice to hear you plan to turn that experience into something good that may help others. With regard to fiction, would any of your future writing involve characters from your first two novels?
AS: The First Christmas of the War is actually the first of a series of four holiday-set, similarly-structured novels featuring the Coleman family. Next up is Thanksgiving, 1942, taking place – as one can tell from the title – eleven months after the initial book’s Christmas, 1941 setting. The next title is The First Christmas After the War, set at Christmastime, 1945. Finally, a concluding novel set in the 1970s takes a final holiday visit with the Coleman family.
MA: Sounds like a nice set of books. Anything else you’d like add before we wrap it up?
AS: Over the years, I’ve had many, many people ask me about the writing business and my own experiences in the context of book or story ideas they’ve had themselves. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with others and am always more than willing to help people navigate today’s publishing world, craft proposals…pretty much anything.
MA: Thanks Alan for appearing on my blog, and thanks for your military service. Please visit Alan’s websites for more information about this amazing author and his projects: www.alansimonbooks.com and www.thinkinghelmet.com.
MA: I’d like to welcome today’s guest blogger, K. Sawyer Paul. Mr. Sawyer is the author of the novel, No Chinook. Please tell us about you and your writing.
KSP: I think my first few stories were all plagiarisms and remixes. When I was in junior high and high school, I’m not sure I had a single original thought. I’d take characters, stories, and plots from various books and movies and video games that I’d enjoyed and play with them in different environments. It was basically the equivalent to playing with action figures from different cartoons. I didn’t know why I wrote, but I always had it in my head that I could write well if I just stuck at it for long enough. You know, the idea that perspiration would eventually lead to inspiration. So I wrote a lot. I wrote a short novella in high school, printed it out, and sold it for a couple of bucks. I sold it for a dollar if the person wanted it on a CD. I basically had my first ebook in 2000, in the form of a Word 98 file. I went to the University of Toronto and decided to take professional writing as a minor. It was a great experience, and it taught me many things about what not to do. I felt I was a little allergic to preconceived ideas of success in writing, especially Canadian writing, where the expectation is that you’ll never really make any money and you sort of make people suffer through your work. I’m very against that. If my story isn’t gripping, put it down, you know? There’s more books being published every year than anyone could ever read. Why waste time if you’re not enjoying it?
MA: Well, amen to that! Why did you choose to write short novels?
KSP: I write short novels, because I don’t like to waste people’s time, but I like novels because even if they’re short, they feel like an accomplishment to read and write. I generally hit the 50 or 60 thousand word mark in the first draft, then cut it down to 45 or so. That makes for a 200-220 page book, which I think is enough. I’m a big fan of not wasting time, wasting words. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy’s style in that respect, where he purposefully leaves out areas of his stories that really could use a sweeping emotional explanation. Hemmingway, too. I like that I can go back and read A Farewell to Arms or Francis Macomber and I’m done in a weekend and better for it. There’s something really crisp and biting about a terse novel.
MA: How did you approach your two novels?
KSP: I made a really set decision when I started writing Everything We Haven’t Lost and then No Chinook to never get unbelievable, so I write about relationships because I think I know my way around them pretty well. So you can say I do romance, but if you read my books you know they’re not typical romances. The fight scenes are uglier. The sex scenes are rougher. The dialogue that connects the exposition seems pulled from real people. At least, I’d like to think so. That’s what people tell me. I want it to feel like you’re actually peering in on a real conversation between real people in a contemporary setting, and while these people are adults they still have emotional hiccups and can really hurt one another.
MA: Tell us about your hero in No Chinook.
KSP: With No Chinook, I developed Scott out of how I saw myself out of the kind of guy I saw a lot of at college: someone who’s grown in every way, but still has a few hang-ups regarding his scars. He’s not a finished adult yet, and No Chinook is in many ways him working his way out of that. So Scott is still hung up over a girl from high school, and he thinks he’s over it until she comes back into his life and they sleep together. What’s interesting about Scott is he sees how immature this girl is, and still can’t eject himself from the drama, because he’s fighting the urges of his younger self.
MA: What should we know about Scott? What makes him strong, and what makes him weak, if at all?
KSP: Scott’s big strength is that he’s a truly nice guy, who’s capable of going a long way for a friend, a lover, and even an ex-lover. His weakness is pretty well as I said above, his inability to really break free of a toxic situation. The relationship he has with Shawn is pretty toxic, and the only way he’s really capable of breaking free is by removing the love he has for this man and just using him. Basically, by figuring out how to cure himself of his biggest weakness, he has to rid himself of his greatest strength. That might seem like a convenient plot progression, but I don’t know that I’ve ever even thought of it that way until recently, now that the book has been out for two years.
MA: Interesting. And what about an antagonist?
KSP: Kate, Scott’s girl from the past, is definitely the antagonist. She’s in many ways Scott’s Tyler Durden or Ferris Bueller, a free character that helps him out of his shell. But she also crushes him over and over. Also, she never reveals where she works. Would you date someone who kept their job from you?
MA: Uh, oh…do I detect an old flame influencing the “bad girl” in No Chinook?
KSP: Yeah, there was definitely a girl I was into who didn’t like me back. But who doesn’t have that? I tapped into other people’s stories more than my own, and built conversation after conversation on the pain of my friends and colleagues. It’s a writer’s job, I think, to plaster those sorts of things together, to make sense of it.
MA: Since No Chinook has been out for two years now, what’s next on your plate?
KSP: I sent my next novel off to my editor just recently. The editorial process always takes longer than you want it to, but it’s in the pipeline. It’s called A Record Year For Rainfall. It’s about a paparazzi and a celebrity blogger who live in Las Vegas. I’m a big fan of Las Vegas, but I’m young so I’ve only ever seen the modernized Disney-like Vegas, so my characters exist in it, in 2006. It’s still sleazy, but there’s all these ironic angles where it’s family friendly now. But there’s still girls in sexy outfits everywhere, and celebrities still go there to go crazy. It’s a fun book that’s about trying to escape yourself and the things you love but not really being able to. There’s a lot of comedic violence and sex and there’s a gay governor and I think people will think the book is a lot of fun.
MA: Are your novels all standalone types, or will you write using some of the same characters in the future?
KSP: There aren’t any continuations of character, but A Record Year For Rainfall and No Chinook definitely exist in the same “universe.” You can think of it like the Kevin Smith movies or Final Fantasy video games, where there’s a new cast, but there’s a lot of familiar aspects. In Rainfall, you’ll find that Bret, the main character, used to work at a job that he’s not allowed to talk about. It’s the same place Kate from No Chinook works, but that’s not obvious from reading either book necessarily. To sum up, I guess: I don’t do sequels, but I do enjoy planting Easter eggs.
MA: I happen to love Easter eggs J. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KSP: I think I want to talk about publishing here. There isn’t any stigma in being an independent graphic artist, an indie band, an independent charity, an independent chef, or almost any other art form or business. Lawyers go into business for themselves all the time. Doctors open up their own private practices. Soon, in less than ten years, people will absolutely not care who published your book. I don’t think readers care who published your book now. If you design a book properly, if you edit it professionally, if the package looks and smells and registers like a real book, then I don’t see the difference between an indie book and something by Harper. There’s a big difference between vanity publishing and independently publishing. Gredunza Press is a business. We publish books. I publish my books through it. Does Dave Eggers get slack for publishing his books through McSweeney’s, a press he built? The only people who care these days are authors who are more swept up in the “industry” than in writing their own books, publishers who want to stay on top, and pundits looking for a juicy story. Readers and writers don’t care, and soon enough nobody else will either. You can buy my book on your Kindle or Nook or whatever, and you can order the physical copy from me and soon from Amazon. You read it, and you’d never know I didn’t get published by one of the big guys. Not every author is capable of completely going into business for themselves. They need help editing, designing, and promoting their novels. That’s where publishers like ours come in. We offer services to authors trying to make it. We’re the future.
MA: Thanks, K. Sawyer. Folks, please visit his website and the site for his press: www.ksawyerpaul.com, and www.gredunzapress.com. Read More
Parts of a Story
Parts of a story can be seen as action scenes or major scenes tied together with other action. They can also be seen simply as beginning, middle, and ending.
Tips for writing a story are many and varied. I’ve put together some suggestions that will help you analyze your own story plot. Or you may finally be able to get your story started. You’ll be writing a book before you know it!
These suggestions apply to any stories of any length. The only difference is in genre.
In fiction, you may lead your characters to do whatever the story dictates.
In nonfiction, you will have the usual beginning, middle, and ending, but you cannot manipulate occurrences since they actually happened.
Paying attention to the details given below can help you put your own story together. Other articles on this site will cover many more aspects of building a short story or novel.
The suggestions below apply to plot action and holding a reader’s interest. Building characters, a scene, or settings will be covered in other articles.
Here then, discussing parts of a story, are some valuable tips for writing a story, or for writing a book.
Always, that’s ALWAYS; remember to include the five senses in all parts of a story.
Most always, you will write the story from the point of view of your main character’s five senses. If any other character must say something about the heat that’s about to make them faint, this is a great way to have a person other than the main character contribute to the description of a setting.
If your reader’s five senses are stimulated, you are more likely to immerse that reader in your story.
The very first word or two should grab the reader’s attention.
In books written ages ago, it might have been okay to begin “The weather was temperate. I was feeling good.” Today, this is a waste of eight first words. Today’s readers want action or something to grab their attention to entice them to read further.
One of the most important tips for writing a story is to make sure you realize the value of your very first words. They must grab the reader’s attention.
The beginnings are the most crucial parts of a story.
All the main characters should be revealed early on.
Oftentimes, when writing a book of some length, new characters are introduced late in a story or plot. This seems only a crutch to get out of a dead-end plot situation to get the story moving again. There can be no saviors dropping into a story, only characters interacting together from near the beginning and carrying the plot toward conclusion.
In multi-genre writing, characters might pop up anywhere. Still, in order to make them credible, they must have a reason for being included.
Important characteristics of each character should be exposed.
Not important is a visual run-down of what each character may look like. Most important is to build each character’s personality.
It’s okay to state a few facts about their physical appearances, but it’s best done when describing them in action. If some information doesn’t help the reader visualize the character, or doesn’t apply to action to take place deeper in the story, leave it out.
An example: If a man never ties his shoelaces, only include something like that to emphasize his lackadaisical attitude (that you’ve already established) and if, deeper into the story, it’s what causes him to fall and break his neck. Otherwise, leave it out. Every act, every word, must have a reason for being included in parts of a story.
The main dilemma of the entire story line should be introduced in the first chapter.
Of all the parts of a story, this one is crucial.
The main dilemma can also simply be strongly hinted at as long as it’s immediately and progressively developed as the story moves along. The reader must see the succession of events moving along as it reveals more and more of the dilemma.
I don’t advise stringing the reader along. Let them know the dilemma as soon as possible. Otherwise, the reader may ask, “What’s the point.” They will put your book down and may not pick it up again.
When writing a short story, unlike writing a book, the dilemma must be revealed as soon as possible.
Almost everything in the first chapter should be considered foreshadowing.
All the plot action and character traits are set-up to propel the rest of the story. I have written a great article titled Foreshadowing, which deals with exactly that – better than I can explain here in few words.
Keep in mind that all parts of a story must lead to another, must hint at the next event. A future event should cause the reader to remember something that was said or done a few pages or chapters back.
Give your characters tough situations to face that make the readers wonder how things could possibly be resolved.
Make it seem there is no resolution. The situations are what flesh out the story.
Readers know that most situations get worse before they get better. This should determine exactly where you step into the action of the dilemma. Yes, step into it. Do not try to build the dilemma. You will be building back-story.
Have the situation already happening when your story jumps into it.
If you want to have your characters having a fun picnic in a park, and then a shooter comes along and ruins the day, that’s okay too. Just don’t waste too many words setting up how nice the day turned out to be.
Think of this example as if watching a movie. We see the family having fun in the park. We SEE everything immediately. Ten seconds after the film begins, the shooter comes along. If you think of the scene this way, you will know how quickly you must start the action in your written work. You will know how much to include in the first few sentences and how much to omit.
Thinking of your opening as a movie is good practice for including only that which applies and then getting on with your story.
Back-story is information that helps show why the characters have a dilemma.
Use back-story sparingly. Introduce it in snippets of conversation, or in your characters’ memories. Use it only if it enhances the present action. Too much back-story and the plot will stall instead of plunging your reader head first into the bramble bush.
An open ending of each chapter, known as the proverbial cliffhanger, encourages the reader to turn the page.
Another invaluable point in the parts of a story is to try to have cliffhangers at the ends of each chapter. Don’t bring all the action to a close just because the chapter is ending. The reader won’t have a reason to read further.
Leave some events open and questions unanswered. All the while, infuse that chapter with all that it can hold for that particular scene.
When writing a book, you will have many chapters in which you can build cliffhangers as well as great endings when the meanings of these are later revealed.
In various parts of a story, when developing the plot and continuing the action, what the characters experience must be a result of the plot dilemma you originally introduced.
Think about what you created. If you have someone robbing a bank, the plot dictates how these people elude the police. In the end, they are caught. A simple trail to follow only made interesting by complications you add.
Another example is if you begin your story with a seamstress sewing clothes, this could lead anywhere. However, you’ve chosen a topic that may be difficult to develop enough to hold a reader’s immediate interest. Your market for such a story would be limited.
The seamstress would then have to create some gorgeous line of clothing, maybe accidentally, that propels her to fashion design stardom. Maybe she comes in contact with the socially elite, while she, herself, lives in squalor. Think how a story like that might end. Her status is either elevated, or she remains an unknown.
Parts of a story such as this might suggest this seamstress is blind to improving her lot though she wants to. The ending must show the reader how the seamstress overlooks her chance at a better life – and is, perhaps, better for it. Or maybe she finds happiness and reason to stay in her own little world.
Endings make or break your story.
If a reader reads all the way to the ending and the ending falls flat, you will have a greatly disappointed would-be fan. That reader will not suggest her friends read the book. In fact, she may never buy another of your books.
The ending must follow the action. Only one ending would be apropos for any story, with rare exceptions.
The parts of a story must come together so that, with the climax and denouement, the reader feels a degree of satisfaction at having shared the characters lives.
Many stories have more than one ending.
More than one ending would be where the plot contains one or more subplots that, while carrying the main plot, are also nearly stories unto themselves. See my article Forensic Evidence in Plots. In the case of strong subplots, you would then have the main story ending, along with a wrap up of one or more subplots.
Ideally the subplots should wrap up before the main ending. That way, the wrap up of the subplots feed into the climax of the main story line.
When crafting the climax of any story, the actions of the characters will dictate the ending.
You’ve heard the saying “Let the story write itself,” haven’t you? Your story will write itself.
Don’t be concerned about the ending till you’ve arrived at the ending. Allow your characters to perform, to achieve greatness in their endeavors or their dastardly deeds. When you finally arrive at the ending, the characters’ actions will dictate the ending.
Then, as I always say, There is always an exception to every rule.
When I wrote my Egyptian novel, The Ka, I had the ending before I began. I also had many other scenes and knew how the story would flow. But I had to massage and manipulate the story line to arrive at the ending I could not change.
The denouement is the lesson learned after the climax has been realized.
Either or both the character and reader understand the result of the action that occurred in all the parts of a story.
For example, let’s say your character bumbles around doing bad things to people. Then he is caught in a situation where he needs help and things look pretty bleak because no one wants to help him. But someone steps forward, sees the good in the kid, and gives him a chance to turn his life around.
The climax to all this would be the kid getting help in the eleventh hour. The denouement would be the realization the kid has about how his actions hurt people and almost ruined his chance for getting help for himself. The kid’s life does a turn around and he now teaches other kids about good and evil.
The denouement is his self-realization, plus what the reader gets from it also.
Parts of a story can be developed on their own.
Often times, my mind is overflowing with the action of a scene that I write the scene without anything leading to it. Later, I go back and bring threads forward into the new action.
As long as you tie the scenes together in a cohesive manner, nothing says you can’t write the parts of a story that come into your mind in a rush. Write it! Catch that spark of creativity as it happens.
Tips for writing a story, as outlined above, are meant to help you understand the creative steps along the way to writing a book or short story; steps a writer must utilize in the beginnings, middles and endings of stories.
The parts of a story are scenes of action. Tie them together. Make one action cause another, and write it one page at a time.
MA: I’m delighted to welcome back to Mike Angley’s Blog, Sylvia Massara. Sylvia first guested with me on September 3, 2010, and you can go back and read her original post here: All the Way from Australia Comes Romantic Comedy Author, Sylvia Massara to Guest with Mike Angley
I won’t repeat her biography here, but you can find it at the link above, or visit her website for even more information about her: www.sylviamassara.com
MA: Tell me again what you did before becoming a writer.
SM: Prior to embarking on my writing career, I spent many years in the corporate world being a HR Manager, a Trainer/Lecturer, and most recently I started a business, Tudor Writing Services, where I provide proofreading/editing/website and social media services. Having said this, my true love has always been acting. I can remember wanting to be an actress since the age of 5. I was in lots of school productions, and later in amateur theatre. I also did a stint (when I was in between jobs) as an extra in some Aussie soapies, where I rubbed shoulders with actresses such as Melissa George and Isla Fisher, whom I believe made a bit of a name for themselves in the US. I was also in TV commercials and a couple of documentaries.
MA: You are a self-proclaimed day dreamer…is that one of your fiction influences?
SM: Well, I always lived my life in what you might call a ‘world of make believe’. Even now I do this. Ever since I can remember I always caught myself day dreaming; and I usually run several plots through my head at any given time. So I guess it was natural for me to progress to a career as a writer. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and always loved it. Besides, you can write till you’re 90, whereas an acting career may not last that long.
MA: The last time you visited with me, you talked about your novel, The Other Boyfriend (which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed, by the way!). What are you here to tell us about today?
SM: The Soul Bearers is a rather spiritual story which deals with courage, friendship and unconditional love. It was partly inspired by true life events. In terms of genre, I guess you could put it under ‘literary fiction’ ‘mainstream drama’, not sure where, but it does make a good read and you better have those tissues handy.
A bit more about the story: The story involves three people whose lives cross for a short period of time, and the profound effect which results from their interaction. Alex Dorian, freelance travel writer, and a survivor of severe child abuse, arrives in Sydney in an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of her past. She shares a house with Steve and the disturbing Matthew, a homosexual couple. Alex finds herself inexplicably attracted to Matthew and must battle with her repressed sexuality and her fear of intimacy.
I believe readers of The Soul Bearers will come away with a deeper understanding of human relationships and of what it means to truly love without condition.
MA: You did something interesting with your characters in this new book. Tell us about that.
SM: There are three main characters, and the story is told through their respective points of view. Even smaller characters have their point of view. This makes the story more intricate as we see the events develop through all the characters, but mainly the main three, being Alex, Steve and Matthew.
You ask how I developed the characters and all I can say is that in terms of the gay couple it wasn’t so difficult. Having come from a hospitality background, I made lots of friends who were gay and I socialized with many of them. So I knew what their way of life was like. For, Alex, it was a little more difficult as she is the victim of sexual abuse. I also have a good friend who was unfortunate enough to have been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and from what I learned through her, and my own research, I came up with Alex.
MA: Are your characters larger than life or are they flawed like us all?
SM: All my characters are flawed; even the very spiritual and wise, Steve. They all have something to learn and something to give to each other. But I guess Steve comes out as the strongest. He’s facing imminent death from AIDS and his only concern is that he leave his partner well provided for, both emotionally and financially. And he manages to do this through Alex (that is, the emotional part of it). I can’t say that Steve has any real weaknesses, except that he likes to ‘arrange’ the lives of others in some way.
Alex is strong in that she managed to survive her childhood ordeal and carved out a life for herself. But she must still face the ghosts of her past and fear holds her back from many an opportunity for growth. The same thing applies to Matthew, but in a different way; he’s living with the rejection of his parents, his partner’s illness and his fear of what the future will bring. Matthew is not so much strong as he is chivalrous and protective of those he loves.
MA: I suspect you don’t have a traditional antagonist in The Soul Bearers, and that perhaps life itself is the “bad guy.”
SM: There is no bad guy per se, but there are bad people in the past of all three characters. There is Alex’s stepfather, who sexually abused her; her mother, who lived in denial of it; then you have Matthew’s parents and their rejection of the only son they have. So you could say these people are the bad guys.
MA: What comes after this latest release? Are you working on anything new?
SM: I will turn back to more lighthearted novels; and I plan another ‘chick lit’ story, but this one will probably be a series featuring the same heroine.
MA: I believe you have a book trailer for your newest release. Where can people find it?
SM: For more on The Soul Bearers check out my website and blog (www.sylviamassara.com). There is a video I posted there that tells you a little bit about the story. The book released in September 2010 and is available in ebook format through Amazon and Smashwords, and sometime in the next couple of months it will be made available in paperback. Read More