Tag Archives: occurrences

Jun 08

Details! Details! “Unseen Background Details” by Mary Deal

Unseen Background Details
by
Mary Deal

As a writer, you may find that TV characters can be emotionally flat time and again. What sets them apart, even what gets the viewer to like them, is that we can see them. We see their facial expressions and how they react to other people and occurrences. We see their actions, which express motivations and emotion. We see the background scenery and how they act and react in such a setting.

What we see on TV or in a film is exactly what many writers fail to include in their stories. What we see in a picture doesn’t have to be explained because we see it. When writing our stories and books, we have to describe most of this for the reader.

A simplified example: If the reader doesn’t know the character is caught out in a rainstorm, how will the reader know anything except that the character is walking down a street?

We must describe the setting. If it was raining, don’t stop there.

Was it a thunderstorm or simply sprinkling?

Did the character get caught without a raincoat and umbrella?

Was the sky dark, or was the sun shining through the rain?

Was the wind blowing?

Who else was nearby and how did they react to the rain?

We writers have to include in our written works anything that might otherwise be seen when viewing the same scene on TV or in a film. Yet, we cannot over-do the details by stopping the story and describing the background.

Every detail necessary should be woven into the action. Which do you prefer?

The sky was dark. Lightning lit up the distance sky. Thunder rolled. The wind was fierce. It bent her umbrella backwards. She discarded it. Rain pelted down. She wore a raincoat but was still caught in the rain.

Or this:

When lightning flashed and thunder rolled again and the deluge came, she grabbed the collar of her raincoat, drew it up around her neck, and began running. Her umbrella bent backwards as the wind tore it from her hands. Her hair hung in loose wet ringlets as water streamed off the ends and ran down inside the coat. How did she ever let herself get caught alone on a dark street with wind strong enough to blow her over the side of the bridge? And why had that dark sedan slowed its speed to keep pace directly behind her?

The rule is never to stop the story to describe the background or scene, but to include the surroundings among the action performed by each character and as it affects that character.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Nov 17

From Soup to Nuts…”Parts of a Story” by Mary Deal

Parts of a Story

by

Mary Deal

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.

Beginnings

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.

Middles

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

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.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Sep 15

Mary Deal Outlines “Outlining a Story”

Outlining a Story

Writing a novel, even a short story, and keeping details and action in some semblance of order can be a daunting task. A loose outline, even a simple list of occurrences, can be the best aid to keep you writing on track.

I began using a structured outline but have since been able to keep facts in order by making a running list of plot points and anything else I need to remember.

We all remember learning about outlines in school. To me, they were rigid with a lot of requirements and I spent more time trying to remember how to title the information than getting the data on paper.

As a writer, you will have had more experience with keeping an accumulation of facts in your mind as you pound the keys. Or maybe you’ve gotten lost in all the twists and turns of your story. Here’s some easy help. For example, let’s say your story is about a woman searching for her abducted daughter.

Keep in mind that all stories need the following:

Setup (want)
Rising Action
Reversals
Recognition
Climax
Denouement

Here’s a simple outline to keep the plot on track. My notes in parenthesis are for your understanding and need not appear in your outline unless they further help you.

Title at the Top

1-Abi’s daughter was abducted (told in present time, with some back story (SETUP)

2-Abi learns of a young woman her daughter’s age on Death Row (Rising Action)

a-The inmate faces lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit

3-Twenty-three years have passed but similarities exist between the inmate and Abi’s daughter

a-Abi begins an intense investigation, including DNA, to learn if the inmate is her daughter
b-Abi pays to restore the sight of the only eye witness.

4-While Abi investigates; her home is torched, as is the sole witness’s home (Reversals)

a-With restored sight, the sole witness skips town.
b-Abi discovers an undercurrent, one to get the inmate to pay for crimes of others

5-DNA proves the inmate is Abi’s daughter (Recognition)

a-Abi fights to prove the innocence of the inmate

6-The case goes all the way down to the needle (Climax)

a-The lethal injection chamber

7-How the story ends after all the action plays out; how the characters’ lives are affected by the climax. (Denouement)

For the sake of this newspaper column, everything begins on the left margin. When you make your list, you can indent the a and b lines to set them off to detect them easily.

It’s as simple as that. The Setup should be brief, intense so the reader is drawn into the plot and can’t leave. The bulk of your story will be contained in Rising Action, Reversals and Recognition. The Climax should be unexpected, brief and stunning, or stinging. The Denouement is a wrap up and should never be more than one or two very short chapters. It can also be handled with anything from a few lines to a paragraph or two.

As you work with your outline, you can lengthen any area. I make more notes for the middle portions because that comprises the bulk of the story.

Another form of outlining: Many people prefer to put each new scene on a 3×5 card and write each scene before going on to the next. I prefer to have a running outline which I sometimes print out so I can see the whole story at a glance.

By the way, the story I’ve just outlined is from my latest thriller, “Down to the Needle.” If you read it, you will see most of the book is NOT included in the outline. Outlines are merely the main plot points but can be as detailed or as simple as you can work with. My outline here is simple. The story itself has so many twists and turns that could only happen by not tightly structuring the creativity of my muse. Read More

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