Thoughts of an Author in Training
Necessary questions when writing a story:
What is your story about? No seriously what is your story about? Not just what the words say or what the title is, but what is the bigger picture? Is the story about self identity, racism, humanity? I guess you could call it a theme but every tale has one and if easily identified, allows for the reader to actively participate in the story.
Why should anyone care? As harsh as it may sound, it’s a valid question. Everybody has something to say or fun stories to tell, but what makes the story you want to tell something that the rest of the human race wants to hear? People want to hear stories not anecdotes.
Is it a story rather than an anecdote? Anecdotes are wonderful and part of human nature. Anecdotes are examples of specific individual moments, for example how my mom feeds the squirrels in the back yard every evening. To make a story, the ingredients include a series of anecdotes that combine together and create a bigger picture. Instead of discussing just that my mother feeds squirrels, I could include a traumatizing childhood experience with squirrels, how my parents are deprived of pets and children as of the last five years, then create a bigger picture of the strangeness of people who feed wild animals, such as my mother. Lots of small ideas can be crunched together to create a big one.
Have you put pressure on the sentences? Sentences, as a professor once said, are the most important thing about writing. As students, we should love sentences. I can’t say that I love sentences but I recognize how important they are to building language, writing, and creating stories. The words and sentences have to say everything that you want to say as an author. They have to stand on their own when you’re not there. Make sure you’re writing what you are saying not what you mean to say.
Is it a passionate topic? Write about something that you’re interested in. This may not always be as easy as it sounds when it’s professional or for someone else, but writing becomes easy and strong when it’s something you’re passionate about. Find a way to give the story your presence and passion to make it work even.
After you have the basics:
Eliminate character movement. In making sure the story is concise and tight, so that everything is in place and holds its own weight, be sure to examine character movement. You don’t need to describe how Waldo turned ninety degrees to go down eight stairs and through a door in the basement to meet his arch nemesis in the corner of the room. Only include details of movement if it’s prevalent to the development of the plot or character.
Proper dialog tags? Dialog is a very important part of storytelling. When using dialog tags, I’ve learned that using he said, she said, is the most effective way to represent communication. Pick up any book that’s not young adult literature and the tags will surely be said, instead of exclaimed or retorted. When trying to retort or exclaim something in real life I would bet it’s pretty impossible. I can guarantee that you will surely have said something rather than burped, gurgled, whispered, chuckled, or snorted. Make sure to tag whose talking to keep the reader in the loop. If the dialog is a back and forth pattern, it would suffice to tag every three or four lines. Punctuation goes inside the quotations and tags are lower case. “Word,” she said.
Pre-summary of scenes are bad! When entering in to a scene or about to reveal a conclusion don’t summarize the upcoming event. Sentences like, “What happened next was really crazy,” or “this summer changed my life forever,” or “I couldn’t believe how much trouble I would get in to for what happened next,” are all unnecessary. Let the words and scenes say what you need to say.
Objects are good story telling devices. Different people can do different things with different objects. You can imply place setting, and characterizations with objects. Glasses, books, cars, shoes, and food can all imply a feeling and create scenes.
Imagery using the senses. When creating imagery don’t forget about the senses. I always forget about smell when I’m building a scene. The senses are a very powerful way to build the imagination and engage the reader.
Declarative sentences, they’re great. Don’t underestimate the power of declarative sentences. They are awesome. They help you say what you want to say. They eliminate run on sentences. They force the reader to look specifically at one sentence and digest its meaning. Declarative sentences can bring a great deal of focus to a topic or scene. The trick is finding the right balance of different sentence types. I’ve found that around the climax of a story or discovery in a scene, declarative sentences help me to just say what I want rather than confuse the reader in a fancy image.
Can your sentences stand alone? A good way to check any section of details or sentences is to read the story removing a section and see if the story makes sense without that section. If it still makes sense and answers all narrative questions, than the section probably isn’t necessary. A hard part of editing your own story is realizing that you’ll have to delete some sentences that don’t contribute to the meaning. The pretty sounding sentences might just have to be saved for a later tale.
P.S- Rules are meant to be broken, but it’s good to know what they are so you can break them. Good luck!