5 Terrific Things for Tuesday: 5 Ideas for Better Stories

5 Ideas for Better Stories

Today I would like to share the wisdom of others, from some of my favorite books on the craft and life of writing. Unfortunately in my dash to leave home this morning I forgot some of my resources on the granite countertop next to my fridge—a happy accident in hindsight. I will have more to share with you next time.

 From Bird by Bird – by Anne Lamott

1) The ABDCE of Writing

I heard Alice Adams give a lecture . . . . She uses a formula when writing a short story, which goes ABDCE, for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending. You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, make us want to know more. Background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot—the drama, the actions, the tension—will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main character, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?

2) Know Your Characters

Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake. Find a way to express this discovery in action, then let your people set about finding or holding onto or defending whatever it is. They you can take them from good to bad and back again, or from bad to good or from lost to found. But something must be at stake or you will not have tension and your readers will not turn the pages. Think of a hockey player—there had better be a puck out there on the ice, or he is going to look pretty ridiculous.

From Writing for the Soul by Jerry B. Jenkins

3) Point of View is a Party

Imagine your story as a party with you as host. You’ve invited old friends, new friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Your job is to choreograph the events so people feel comfortable and never wonder what’s going on.

You greet guests at the door and introduce them to each other, get conversations started. Without being intrusive, your aim is to make sure everyone has a good time.

We’ve all been to parties where the host has not covered the basics. Although we don’t expect our host to be the center of attention, we expect her to manage the details. When this is done right, we hardly notice. We simply know we’ve had a good time. When details are neglected, everyone leaves with a bad taste.

Picture yourself as the host of a fiction party. Invite readers to a treat. Don’t take center stage, but manage the basics in such a way that the reader barely notices. Nothing should jar her as she engages with your characters and plot.

No one should notice that you followed the rules of perspective, that you limited your point of view to one character per scene. But they’ll notice if you don’t.

4) Internal Dialogue

Getting inside a person’s head is fun. Imagine a character thinking, I hate that guy and always have. He ripped me off, stole my wife, and crashed my car.

Now put him in a scene with his nemesis and have him say, “Good to see you again, Phil. I’m looking forward to working together.” When Phil responds positively, the reader knows someone’s lying. Probably both of them. Continue that way throughout your story, and the reader will wonder to the end who is being real and who is not.

From Writing Down the Bones – by Natalie Goldberg

5) Be Specific

Be specific. Don’t say “fruit.” Tell what kind of fruit. Give things the dignity of their names. Just as with human beings, it is rude to say, “Hey girl, get in line.” That “girl” has a name. (As a matter of fact, if she’s at least twenty yours old, she’s a woman, not a “girl” at all.) Things too, have names. It is much better to say, “the geranium in the window” than “the flower in the window.” “Geranium”—that one word gives us a much more specific picture. It penetrates more deeply into the beingness of that flower. It immediately gives us the scene by the window—red petals, green circular leaves, all straining toward sunlight.

By Deb Keiser

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  1. All are excellent suggestions. I think i might steal some for a future talk on writing. 🙂

  2. I love these! I’ve incorporated some of them into talks, Eunice. And I’ll keep them in mind as I write more. I must know my characters well (my readers say so) but I struggle with the whole interview thing. That always feels a bit forced.I know their basics and then get to know them better as I write. . .

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