Tag Archives: Storytelling

Short Story Plot: How to Use Ideas and Structure to Plot a Short Story

Do you want to write a short story, but are unsure about how to develop a short story plot?

Short stories rarely require extensive plotting. They’re short, after all. But a bit of an outline, just to get the basic idea down, can help you craft a strong plot.

Plotting your short stories will give you an end story goal and will help you avoid getting stuck in the middle, or accidentally creating plot holes. You’ll have fewer unfinished stories if you learn to do a little planning before you start writing.

And in this article, you can learn how to take your short story’s primary conflict, and build a plot around it.

Definition of Plot and Structure

I see the terms “plot” and “structure” thrown around interchangeably quite a bit, so I’d like to correct that before we move on.

Plot is a series of events that make up your story.

Structure is the overall layout of your story.

Plot is (most likely) unique to your story, but there are a handful of basic structures that are universal and used over and over again. (We’ll get into the basic three act structure in a later post.) Structure is the bones and plot is what fills it out.

You can learn more about plot and structure in this article, or the different story types here.

The Strength of a Short Story Idea

When I first started out writing short stories, I had no idea where I was going with any of them. Absolutely none. I see this time and time again with newer writers. I think it’s because we’re conditioned to think any kind of art is only driven by that infamous and often elusive muse rather than hard work. I felt the same way.

And then I started getting more stories under my belt. Some I finished. Some I didn’t.

You know what the difference was? The stories I finished, I plotted before I wrote. “ If you want to finish writing a story, try plotting it first. Learn how to plot your short stories in this article.

Now I know a lot of writers loathe plotting or outlining stories—of any length, but especially short stories. They have various reasons for this dislike, but the most common one I hear is planning or outlining takes all the “magic” out of writing. “Creative writing is about being creative!”

I won’t get into the idea that writing is actually a job here—it is. That’s not what this article is about.

Instead, I’m going to propose a different reason for planning a short story with one important question: Is your idea even a story?

Planning out your story, even if it’s short, can give you an answer to this question. It will determine whether or not your central character can work towards achieving a goal (and simultaneously the plot moves towards a climax), or if your idea ends there—at the idea.

Writer’s tip: If you’re feeling stuck on coming up with an idea that could withstand a story’s length, try looking at the types of plots discussed in this article.

Is It a Story or Just a Story Idea?

Don’t panic. I don’t plan extensively. But what I’ve found was absolutely no planning whatsoever more often than not leads to wasted time. Nobody has time to waste.

If I don’t plot at all, I’ll get maybe a third of the way through the story and get stuck. I’ll have no idea where it was going, and without that goal in mind, I’ll flounder. I might tinker around with the idea a little longer, but most of the time I’ll end up abandoning the story.

A few weeks ago, I had the infamous muse visit me. I grabbed my notebook and started writing. It was great writing. The prose was good, the main character was crazy interesting, ditto for the secondary character, and I’d set up a mystery that made you want to turn the page. The problem was I had no idea what the mystery was. I had set up and no payoff. This story idea fizzled out at the start of the second act.

Now, to be clear, I do indulge my muse every once in a while. It does feel good to be taken over by an idea, even if you don’t know where it’s going. It’s all very “artisty.”

But the fact is I’ve sold one story that I finished without plotting it beforehand. One. Out of dozens I’ve started. That one took me about a week to write and it was torture for me, for my characters, and, I’m sure, for the backspace on my keyboard. Everything about the story reads as forced. It’s uninspired. And you know what?

That’s the one my muse started me on! Inspiration is supposed to be the point of the muse, right? But a muse can only get you started; it can’t keep you going.

Your muse won’t finish a story for you.

When your muse starts poking at you and you don’t know if your idea is a story, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. Am I going to remember this idea tomorrow? Yes, it’s nice to be taken over by inspiration. Feel free to indulge that every so often. But also be prepared to have an unfinished story on your hands. You don’t necessarily have to wait until tomorrow to write the thing (especially when we’re talking about shorts), but you do need to know if your enthusiasm is going to wan a few minutes down the road when your muse decides to go take a nap, leaving you with nothing but frustration. (That story I mentioned a moment ago? I haven’t completely forgotten about it, but it does not sit at the top of my mind.)
  2. Do I have a “What if?” question and an answer to that question? If you’re thinking about beautiful sentences where nothing is happening, that’s probably not a story. If you can’t think of an end goal for your character, that’s probably not a story. See the next section for more on “What if?” and the answer. (The story I didn’t finish did not have a goal in mind.)
  3. Do you have a character? This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often I used to start “stories” and just ramble on with purple prose. No people, no action, no story.

If the answer to all these questions is “yes,” then you most likely have a finishable story. If it’s “no” tell your muse to go back to its hole until it can come up with something better.

If you must, explore the idea a little more and see if you can’t plot a little something. (Do not write yet!)

Enter the “What if?” question.

What If? How Asking This Question Can Plot a Short Story

In the last post, I told you my favorite way to think of a short story idea is the “What If?” question. This question can help you think about various ways to put your central character into a conflict, like: What if X happened? It’s your own mind giving itself creative writing prompts.

Let’s expand on that method a bit. Notice it’s a question. And questions often have answers, do they not? Knowing the answer to your “What If?” question is the most basic outline of a story.

Let’s start with a basic question.

Q: What if someone knocked on my door?

A: I’d probably ignore it.

That’s it. That’s the story. It’s kind of crappy, right?

Notice that answer is my immediate reaction to the knock. It’s not something that happens down the road. That’s part of what makes this scenario NOT a story.

The other issue here is there is no conflict. I don’t answer the door, the person goes away, and I’m left to my own devices. There are no consequences for my decisions, so nothing happens—and nobody reading about this incident cares.

Without conflict, there are no stakes in a story. No conflict equals no story.

What Makes a Good Conflict?

Remember conflict can come in many forms and doesn’t have to be a shoot ’em up kind of situation. Internal conflict can also make a short story. But there MUST be conflict.

So, on multiple levels, this question and answer session is a loser.

Now, let’s say I don’t answer the door. (I’m a millennial. I’d rather not talk to people if I can help it, so this really is the most likely thing to happen.) The person assumes I’m not home. But wait! They’re a burglar. They now try to break into my house. The “What If?’ question has now changed to “What if someone tried to break into my house while I was home?”

See how the central character has to do something now? Even if they don’t, there will be consequences.

Because the story idea establishes stakes, I know I’ve got something. How do I know? There are myriad possibilities here. I could call the cops. I could run out and confront them myself. I could freeze and run upstairs and hide. I could sic my dog on them. I could wait for them to get inside and invite them to join me in having a cup of tea.

Whatever I choose to do, there will be a cause and effect trajectory of events. Which means more stakes, and more opportunities that force my protagonist to face their conflict. They have to make decisions, which will lead to a whole slew of other “What If?” questions:

  • What if they get in before the cops get here?
  • What if they break a window?
  • What if my dog was outside and they hurt him?
  • What if a neighbor sees them and comes running over?
  • What if they “break in” but it’s really just my sister needing in my house for something?
  • What if I’m hiding under the bed and they find me?
  • What if they hate tea?
  • What if … and the list goes on.

These are all more interesting scenarios than just ignoring the door and the person going away. But we’re still looking for the answer to the initial “What If?” question. The answer solves the question and puts it to bed. It doesn’t lead to other questions.

Don’t Forget to Answer Your What If Questions

A short story only has one to three scenes normally, so your answer needs to come in a short span of time. It can’t come years down the road. Any span of time longer than a few hours, maybe a day or two, is probably too long.

Q: What if someone tried to break into my house while I was home?

A: I would call the cops, but also grab my bat and be ready to use it.

But wait. That still doesn’t answer the question, not in a final way. There’s still an open ending there, still questions. (Did I use the bat? What happened if I did?) Let’s try again.

A: I would decide not to use my bat and would talk to them until the police got there.

That’s better. With this scenario, I can think of a couple of things that would happen after the police got there, but at that point the situation is over. I’ve done it. I’ve defeated the burglar. Anything afterwards is a conclusion to the story.

The best part is, I’ve actually done it in a way that means change for me as a central character. I didn’t want to talk to anyone to begin with, which is what led to the whole situation. But I have to overcome that aversion by talking to someone in order to solve the problem.

Short Story Structure

We’ve got two important elements of the story narrowed down now: the “What If?” question and its ultimate answer.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have come across the many posts we have about plot structure. In a story you need six things:

  1. Exposition (Background and setup.)
  2. Inciting Incident (A major event happens to your character.)
  3. Rising Action (or progressive complications, a sequence of events where things get worse.)
  4. Crisis (Ah, what is your character going to do?)
  5. Climax (Showdown based on what your character decided to do.)
  6. Denouement (Finish it up.)

Need a refresher on these plot elements? Dive further into story structure here.

A short story is often only one to three scenes. That means this structure, these six elements, stretch over the entire story to form the framework. (The scenario I’ve presented would most likely be a one-scene story.) Notice I’m talking about framework here. These six elements are your story structure.

So what do we have here after all this thinking about questions and answers?

The “What If?” question is your Inciting Incident.

The ultimate answer is your Climax.

Boom. Two elements down. And these two elements happen to be the bulk of what your readers will remember from your story.

We’ve planned a story, believe it or not. And it didn’t even hurt that much. “ Asking “What if?” can determine if your story idea can last the length of a story, however short. How your story’s climax plays out determines the answer to that question.

But wait! There’s more. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

In the process of coming up with these two elements, we’ve inadvertently come up with a couple of others.

Choosing not to use the bat and talking to the burglar instead? That’s the Crisis. All those streams of “What if?” questions? Those are progressive complications.

Whoops. We’ve outlined basically the whole thing, haven’t we? I sort of tricked you there. Sorry, not sorry.

Plotting Doesn’t Hurt—Too Much

Plotting a short story doesn’t have to be a meticulous thing that requires hours of work and a running spreadsheet. It also doesn’t have to take the magic out of writing.

Your plan for your short story can be a simple, loose outline. (By the way, outlines can change if you think of something better! They’re not set in stone.) Really, you just need two elements to get to writing a short story:

  1. A “What If?” question (identifies the Inciting Incident)
  2. The answer (shows the Climax)

And then you’re ready to write!

In future articles, we’ll dive more into writing structure and the essentials and plot elements of a short story. For now, use this “shortcut” to plan out a few short stories of your own! Have fun with it!

Do you like planning or are you more of a pantser? Let me know in the comments.

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Story Pacing: 4 Techniques That Help Manage Your Plot’s Timeline

As a writer of fiction, you want readers to open your book and become so absorbed they can’t put it down. It helps to be aware that so much of what happens when a reader picks up a book takes place in the subconscious mind. Readers don’t realize that it’s happening, and many writers don’t pay attention to it either.

One of those largely subconscious mechanisms is story pacing.

Story pacing is often ignored as an aspect of learning how to craft a really great story. A lot of writers don’t give it much thought, yet it’s a critically important writing technique and quite exciting to learn about.

In this post, we’ll cover story pacing in detail, and I’ll provide some crucial areas for you to work on in your books—to open up some doors you didn’t even know existed.

Story Pacing Opened My Eyes

One of the primary ways we learn how to craft story is from reading a ton of books, especially in our target genre. I’ve been an avid reader of suspense fiction for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a huge boost to my writing abilities.

So when I started writing thrillers, I felt fairly confident about my skills. I knew I had an exciting storyline, with intriguing plot points supported by well-developed characters and plenty of action.

That’s why I was so surprised when my mentor took a look at one of my stories and said: “It’s not a thriller.”

He told me I had all the right stuff for a thriller, but the pacing was off. After he showed me the same techniques that I’ll share with you in this article, I was able to give the story a better sense of urgency, shaping it into a solid thriller.

With the help of this post, you can do the same with your stories.

What is Story Pacing?

You may be thinking that story pacing is simply the tempo at which your story unfolds. True enough, on the surface. But the deeper reality is that pacing is the art of keeping readers engaged in your story and not letting them out. It’s what pulls them through to the end.

Here’s another way to think about it. In a ThrillerFest panel discussion on the topic of pacing, Lee Child said:

“Every book you’ve ever read has a timeline; it starts somewhere and finishes somewhere. Pacing is how you manage that timeline.”

He goes on to talk about how he writes the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow. Meaning he operates like a photo editor reporting on a tidal wave. The editor shows the wave coming in at a tremendous pace and then slows down the tape as it crashes into the seawall to intensify the impact and examine it in greater detail.

As writers, we have the ability to speed and slow the rate at which our readers consume a story. You can learn those techniques and master the art of pacing by structuring your story according to genre.

Pacing is Inextricably Connected With Genre

Being clear about genre is really critical to the reader’s enjoyment of your story.

To make my point, I’ll tell you about this little trick my husband likes to pull on me. Sometimes when we stop at a gas station, he’ll disappear inside and come out with a large cup and offer me the straw. Though I never know what to expect, I can’t help but form some kind of preconceived anticipation.

So maybe I’m thinking root beer or Dr. Pepper. I take a drink and—Yuck! That’s awful! What is it? And he might say it’s Squirt. Well, I like Squirt, but since it’s not what my taste buds were expecting, it disappointed.

It’s the same with genre.

Readers start a story with certain expectations, they want a particular type of reading experience. That’s why genres exist. To help readers make good choices about what they want to read.

Pacing is dependent on genre and genre springs from pacing. Like the chicken and the egg, you can’t really separate them. The genre you choose to write will dictate the story pacing and the way you pace your book will determine the genre.

Relationship between pacing and genre

If a reader picks up a thriller and the story doesn’t have fast pacing like a thriller should, they’ll put the book down or finish it in disgust and never go back to that writer’s work. Same with a cozy mystery or a slow-burn psychological suspense.

And the reader won’t even consciously register what was wrong with it. They’ll just know it disappointed.

Pacing in Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense

Let’s think of a story’s pacing like a theme park ride. When you visit a theme park, you know the kind of rides you want to experience. The ferris wheel is fun and so is the Tilt-a-Whirl, but they move at different paces. Story pacing is like that, too.

Use this analogy to take a closer look at how the pacing differs in thrillers, suspense stories, and mysteries. Each genre is a joy to read, but the experience each provides is unique.

Thrillers

Thrillers are roller coaster rides. You get in and strap down and then the coaster pulls slowly out of the station and starts chugging up that first hill. This is like character development, grounding the reader in the setting, and building the suspense.

By the time your reader is solidly inside the viewpoint character’s head and has learned to care about that character, we’ve reached the top of that first big drop and we plummet ahead on a wild ride of twists and turns with an occasional breather while the story builds to another thrilling drop.

Thrillers are made of fast-paced scenes.

Mysteries

Mysteries are more like the funhouse. They’re designed to surprise, challenge, and amuse with puzzles to solve and riddles to unravel. They’re more interactive than a thrill ride, inviting readers to participate in working out the clues.

We may have to work our way through a revolving tunnel or cross a crazy obstacle course. And there may be spurts of fast-paced activity, but the overall tone of the ride doesn’t have the frenetic qualities of a roller coaster.

Mysteries move at a moderate pace.

Suspense

We might liken suspense stories to the spooky rides where you ride on a track through a series of dark and mysterious passages, accompanied by scary music and lots of atmosphere.

Some of these rides are slow, drawing out the suspense, giving you time to worry and wonder about what’s coming next. Other rides move more quickly, giving you less time to recover from the unexpected each time you turn the corner.

Suspense stories vary in pace and run the gamut.

Pacing Influences the Reader’s Experience

As with most aspects of good fiction writing, intentional story pacing provides a quality reading experience. Proper pacing allows us to control what the reader thinks and feels. We do that in obvious ways, not so obvious ways, and some really subconscious ways. As I mentioned before, a lot of pacing is effectively a subconscious control system.

We’re going to look at the nuts and bolts of pacing, but unless you realize their purpose and understand the end goal, you won’t get full value from using these tools.

The way the page looks—sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, amount of white space—sends signals to the reader about how to consume the story. Page appearance is important in pacing a book correctly.

So, before we dig into the specifics, we need to cover an absolutely key component of successful pacing.

Form Follows Content

If you’re wondering how to structure your sentences and paragraphs, look at your content. What’s going on in the story?

What is the character thinking or feeling in that moment? What should the reader be experiencing? These are what will tell you how long or short to make your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.

In general, longer sentences promote slow-burn suspense while shorter sentences can create a frantic feeling of panic.  But the number one rule to remember in story pacing is this: form must follow content.

This means that what’s happening in the story should be reflected in the way it looks on the page.

If there’s a fight scene, or some kind of fast-paced action going on, the sentences and paragraphs should be short, clipped, and surrounded by white space. If your character is arriving in a new setting and taking it in, these descriptive passages will be slower, with longer sentences and paragraphs.

Flashbacks also slow the pace as you pull the reader from the active voice of the story into a more introspective vein.

Ask yourself what’s happening, and make your form fit your content.

Some people, when they hear the term pacing, think it means fast. And in suspense fiction, that’s often what readers want. But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional slow-paced scene if that’s what the content calls for.

Good pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. “ Story pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. Tweet thisTweet

Feel free to throw out the rules of grammar if they get in the way of pacing and presenting the story. Fiction writing doesn’t always require full, grammatically correct sentences. Those rules exist to serve the story, and the story exists to serve the reader. Our job, as writers, is to serve the reader in the best way we know how. And sometimes that means breaking the rules.

Now let’s dive into the specific techniques used in pacing. We’ll look at four big ideas:

  1. Sentence structure
  2. Paragraph structure
  3. Scene and chapter structure
  4. Cliffhangers

Sentence Structure

The way you structure a scene’s sentences sends a message to the reader, usually on a subconscious level, about how fast to read. And the content of the scene will dictate the form.

Longer sentences, with lots of detail, tend to slow the pace and that’s perfect, if that’s what the content requires. Short, staccato sentences—even sentence fragments or single-word sentences with lots of white space in between—convey a fast pace. Machine gun dialogue—those terse conversations say, during a car chase—does the same thing. It speeds the pace.

Often, when there is physical movement in the story, the sentences will be shorter and when things are stationary, they’ll be longer. But that’s a generalization. Always base form on content. That’s really the only rule. Your job is to tell a story, and all the little pieces you use to do so should follow that story.

How pacing works in sentence structure

The energy of a sentence is in its kernel, subject + verb:

The woman screamed.

Sometimes you’ll need to include an object and indirect object:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar.

But keep in mind that any clauses you add will drain some of the energy:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar, cursing him for tracking mud on her Persian carpet, berating him for breaking the window.

Remember, that’s okay if it’s called for by the content. What’s going on, and how do you want the reader to feel about it? Also, be aware of rhythm. In your sentence lengths and structure, you’re setting up a cadence which conveys a certain kind of tone.

The best way to learn the structures, rhythms, and cadences of well-written scenes is to read a lot and seriously study those who have mastered your genre’s story pacing.

Action is content. If you’re writing an action scene, you can often get away with less detail and shorter sentences. Content calls for them.

But two people sitting and talking doesn’t usually qualify as action. For moments like this, to keep the reader tucked into the story, you need to use more rich, sensory details that spark emotions and opinions. Which means longer sentences.

This doesn’t mean that if the pace of the story is fast you need to leave details out. Remember, you must tell the story—everything the reader needs to get the full experience. But if the pace is fast, you must deliver the information in a more clear, concise fashion.

No matter what the pace, you’ve got to get the reader inside the viewpoint character’s head, experiencing the story through that main character—their emotions, opinions, sensory input, and perception of what’s happening in the story.

Are you picking up on the major theme of pacing? Content drives everything. “ Content drives the pace of your story—content drives everything. Tweet thisTweet

Paragraph Structure

When a reader opens a book and sees a lot of black on the page—long blocks of text—that sends a message that it should be consumed at a leisurely pace. Short paragraphs with lots of white space around them signals a fast-moving page-turner.

It encourages fast reading.

The way you structure sentences and paragraphs will influence your reader’s breathing and physical state to some extent. Even when not reading out loud, we tend to breathe in conjunction with the words on the page, and faster breathing leads to a faster heart rate.

Lots of short, punchy paragraphs literally make your book a page-turner because your reader’s eye devours them and quickly moves on. Yet, in some cases, a long, run-on sentence can leave your reader breathless, since there’s no place to pause and take a breath.

Normally-paced text varies in paragraph length. It might go from a four-line paragraph to a three-line paragraph, then five lines followed by two, and so on. About ninety percent of most books, except for climactic scenes, run along in this sort of pattern. It’s interesting to the eye and doesn’t contain lengthy, intimidating paragraphs.

This will vary by genre. Literary works will tend toward longer paragraphs, while genres such as action adventure and thrillers contain only sixty to sixty-five percent “normal” story pacing. This utilizes a lot more white space and shorter sentences and paragraphs.

Use the power of the paragraph. Especially with faster-paced fiction. Hit the return key as often as necessary. Set short, punchy sentences apart for greater impact when the situation calls for it. This is a powerful technique.

How pacing works in paragraph structure

To further explore how paragraph structure affects reader experience, let’s take an excerpt from the thriller-paced short story Kowalski’s In Love by James Rollins. In this first example, I took the liberty of restructuring the paragraphs to reflect normal pacing:

Modified excerpt from James Rollins

Now, see how it appeared in the published version:

Original excerpt from James Rollins

Do you see how the shorter paragraphs facilitate a faster pace? Notice how they give more impact to the short sentences, which stand alone in their own paragraphs.

Scene and Chapter Structure

When you write, your scenes and chapters should drive the story forward and accomplish story objectives. Where you break them should not be random, but based on content.

You should be aware, however, that readers can bog down if the chapters are too long. Most readers are comfortable with chapter lengths between 2,000 and 2,500 words. Shawn Coyne, editor and author of The Story Grid, calls these “potato chip” chapters because they’re short enough to encourage readers to indulge in just one more before turning out the light.

And then, just one more…

It’s also useful to vary the lengths of your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes to avoid falling into a monotonous pattern. It’s important to realize that readers have an instinctive sense of story pacing, and when the pacing is congruent with the content, it feels right. If something is out of sync, they’ll sense that, too.

For example, years ago, when I read Connie Willis’s WWII time travel book, Blackout, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I neared the end. Something was wrong. The pacing was off, and I realized my instincts were on target as the book came to an abrupt end—in the middle of the story.

The publishers had decided the book was too long and their solution was to chop it into two parts without any warning to the reader. I, along with thousands of other readers, was not pleased.

You want to do all you can to give readers confidence in your storytelling abilities. When they feel like they’re in good hands, readers will settle into a story and stick with it. Putting in the effort to get the pacing right will pay dividends in gaining reader trust.

Cliffhangers

Remember, the function of pacing is to pull the reader through the book to the very end. Cliffhangers are a vital part of that process and consist of scene and chapter endings and the openings that follow.

Cliffhangers don’t just occur at the end of a chapter where you decide to stop writing. They happen when you make the effort to build something compelling into that ending. Effective cliffhangers keep readers from putting the book down, bridge the gaps between chapters and scenes, and provide momentum.

Like links in a chain, the cliffhanger doesn’t stand alone. It connects to the next opening and incorporates techniques used in deep POV to ground the reader in the new setting and character, creating a seamless progression through the story.

For a detailed study on the crucial skill of writing cliffhangers, learn more from my post: Cliffhanger Meaning 101: What They Are and How Writers Use Them.

How Form Follows Content

Lots of factors enter into your reader’s experience with your book. Some of them are out of your control. Is she tired? Hungry? Just a had a fight with her husband? There’s nothing you can do about any of those things.

But you should do your best to take control of the things you can. Like the way your story looks on the page. This has a tremendous influence on your reader, though most of it happens on a subconscious level.

To get a better idea of what I mean, let’s look at an example from Dean Koontz’s thriller The Whispering Room:

Excerpt from Dean Koontz

Do you see how these terse, tight paragraphs of dialogue convey tension and move quickly like machine gun fire? This makes for a fast pace and the form follows what’s happening in the scene, a rapid back-and-forth conflict.

Now let’s examine another example, this one from Bloodline by James Rollins:

Excerpt from James Rollins

The concise sentences and paragraphs communicate tension to the reader and encourage a rapid reading, eating up the page, leading to faster page flips. They are direct and sparse, hiding nothing of the bleakness of the scene.

Here’s a contrasting example from Jeffery Deaver’s novel The Blue Nowhere:

Excerpt from Jeffery Deaver

Deaver could easily have broken this block into multiple paragraphs. Why didn’t he?

I think he did it this way because the long, unbroken paragraph mimics the droning on and on of the little girl. It also reflects the viewpoint character’s blasé attitude about murder, burying it in a pile of words as if it’s something of little significance, highlighting its trivial aspect as just part of a game.

Remember to think about what’s happening in the story and how you can use all your skills to communicate that to the reader. It’s not just the words you use, but how you arrange them on the page that affects the way your reader will experience the story.

Improving Your Story Pacing Skills

The first step in mastering pacing is awareness. Once you become aware of the subconscious signals you’re sending your readers, you can practice and improve.

However, the best way to control the pace of a story is from your own subconscious, the back brain, the creative part. Not from the critical front brain. So how does that happen?

It’s important to keep learning, studying, practicing, and polishing your skills as a writer. But to make those skills really useful, they need to be internalized and become a natural part of your writing process.

Musicians practice scales and fingering exercises. Basketball players run drills on passing, dribbling, and shooting. Dancers spend hours at the barre, practicing the basic moves. They do these things so that the techniques are available to them in concert, in the middle of a championship game, or on the stage.

We make muscle memory by repeating the proper movements until they become automatic.

For writers, this involves reading first for pleasure. And then, when you’ve found a book that grabbed you and pulled you all the way to the end, go back and study it.

Analyze and practice until you’ve internalized the skill and it becomes second nature. The first step is awareness, then comes practice. Do these things on a regular basis and eventually, the techniques and information will pass from the front of your brain into the back of your brain and become automatic.

How about you? Did you learn something new you can apply right now to your writing? Tell us about it in the comments.

By Joslyn Chase

Source thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Storytelling Exercise: Three Acts

Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills, which is filled with fiction-writing exercises that impart basic techniques of storytelling. Today’s exercise is from chapter forty-five. It’s called “Three Acts.” Enjoy!

The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective ways to outline or analyze a story and its structure. The three acts are as follows:

  1. Setup
  2. Conflict
  3. Resolution

In the first act, the plot and characters are established, and we learn what the central conflict is. It’s roughly 25 percent of the story, but this is a guideline, not a rule.

The second act is the longest of the three acts, usually about 50 percent of the narrative. In the second act, the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits a boiling point.

Finally, the third act resolves the conflict. The third act is usually about 25 percent of the story.

Study:

Choose five stories you’ve read, and break them into three-act structures by identifying the setup, conflict, and resolution for each one. Summarize each act in just a few sentences.

Practice:

Create five story premises, and quickly draft three-act outlines for each one. Use a single sentence to describe each of the three acts. A couple of examples are provided below.

Natural Disaster:

Act I: A natural disaster is impending.

Act II: The natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. The other half struggles to survive.

Act III: Earth’s survivors rebuild.

Romance:

Act I: A teenager from a prestigious family falls in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.

Act II: The couple tries to hide their relationship, but eventually they are outed.

Act III: The teenager is forced to choose between love and access to the family’s wealth and support.

Questions:

Why do you suppose the three-act structure is universally applicable to almost all forms of storytelling? Would it be possible to write a story with no setup, or with the setup at the end or in the middle? What happens if the three acts are rearranged? Can any of the acts be left out of a story?

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

25 Story Starters for Writing Fiction

Are you a storyteller? Do you want to be a storyteller?

If you’re interested in writing flash fiction, short stories, or novels, then you’re going to need lots of ideas, especially if you want to write professionally.

Some of us have too many ideas; others don’t have enough ideas. Maybe we have a solid idea for a story, but something’s missing. We need to spice it up by adding subplots or characters. Maybe the setting or story world isn’t rich enough. Perhaps your story lacks theme.

Story starters are a great way to get ideas for writing stories, but they can also be used to generate ideas for improving stories that are already in the works.

Story Starters

Today, I’d like to share twenty-five story starters. You can use these story starters to inspire a new story or to breathe new life into a story you’re already working on. Use them to write whatever you want — flash fiction, short stories, or a novel.

  1. We all know about conspiracy theorists. They believe the moon landing was a farce. Come up with a new conspiracy that theorists rally around. The public thinks they’re crazy, but are they?
  2. The world is run by politicians, but sometimes, ordinary people get caught up in political drama and intrigue. What happens when a bike messenger, a restaurant server, and a daycare teacher get unwillingly drawn into the affairs of state?
  3. Technology has developed at a splitting speed over the past century. Before we know it, every house will be equipped with a robot and a virtual reality system. But what happens when a couple of kids venture into the wrong area of the virtual reality and get stuck there?
  4. Witnesses to crimes can find themselves in grave danger, which is why there are protection programs for such persons. But what if the witness decided to join forces with the prime suspect? What does the witness get in exchange for false testimony that acquits a terrible criminal?
  5. Take a look at the world we live in. In some places, life is pretty good. But in other places, life is difficult for most people, especially where there’s a lot of inequality, poverty, and oppression. What if an oppressive culture used war or the media to spread itself around the globe? What would that look like, and would we ever overcome it?
  6. After a family moves into a new house, one of the kids looks for a hiding place to stash some secret belongings and discovers a panel at the back of a closet. Assuming it leads to the attic, the kid removes the panel only to find a window that looks into a world populated with magic and monsters.
  7. Two politicians are in a heated race to win a critical election (governor, president, etc.) and through negative campaigning have become arch enemies. But their kids go to the same college and have fallen in love. What happens when the relationship is revealed in the media?
  8. All the evidence in a brutal, premeditated murder points to one primary suspect, including footage from security cameras. The problem is that there’s no motive, and the alleged killer insists on his or her innocence. Who committed this heinous crime?
  9. While working on a more fuel-efficient space shuttle that will transport tourists to and from the moon, one engineer stumbles into a way to make faster-than-light (FTL) engines a reality.
  10. A stranger comes to a small town that hasn’t seen a new resident since the town’s youngest child was born sixteen years ago. The stranger rarely leaves his or her formerly abandoned home except to buy groceries and strange supplies from the local home improvement store, and the townspeople think something’s not right.
  11. Step back in time hundreds — or perhaps thousands — of years. The leader of a small tribe is butting heads with the tribe’s healer. Meanwhile, a powerful neighboring tribe is infiltrating their territory.
  12. Inspired by Jurassic Park, a biological engineer is committed to recreating dinosaurs. While researching ancient dinosaurs, the scientist stumbles into evidence that fire-breathing dragons once soared over the land and decides to recreate those instead.
  13. While representing an accused killer, the attorney falls in love with the client, partially because he or she believes the accused is innocent.
  14. Teenagers love to rebel and experiment. But what happens when one teenager’s antics end up on video and go viral? Bullying and humiliation ensue.
  15. After working hard for decades, the main character has finally managed to retire and purchase a condo on a small, tropical island, where he or she intends to write a novel. But strange things start happening — things go missing, there are creepy noises, and our character feels like he or she is constantly being watched.
  16. For centuries, humans have wondered if we are alone in the universe. The answer finally comes when aliens arrive. But it’s a time when tensions are high between the nations of Earth. Will humanity unite, or will some nations form an alliance with the aliens?
  17. A young couple believes their fairy tale has finally come true and they will live happily ever after. They are recently married, have good jobs, just bought a home, and there’s a baby on the way. But the fairy tale seems to unravel as secrets and lies begin to surface.
  18. When a foreign operative embedded in the CIA disappears with loads of government secrets, all hell breaks loose. But is this operative truly a foreign spy, or is it a citizen intent on blowing the cover off of government corruption?
  19. A mid-sized tourist plane crashes on a remote deserted island, killing all but a handful of survivors. Rescue is on the way until a devastating storm arises, barring access to the island. Now these urbanites must learn to live off the land and with each other.
  20. After serving a ten-year sentence for a heinous crime she didn’t commit, a former college student gets a new identity and becomes a private investigator intent on exonerating herself.
  21. A group of teenagers spends a summer day on a scavenger hunt in the woods just outside of town. When they reconvene to name the winner of the hunt, one of them doesn’t show up and cannot be found.
  22. When a kid finds out both parents are out of work and the family might have to move in with the grandparents, he or she decides to solve the problem by starting the modern version of a lemonade stand — an online enterprise.
  23. One couple’s nasty divorce leaves their two young children in the custody of their grandparents. Will the couple put aside their differences to get their children back?
  24. Dreams come true when a foster child is finally adopted. But the child’s new family is filled with secrets, and he or she begins to suspect that it wasn’t a chance adoption after all.
  25. The main character receives a strange inheritance from an unknown deceased relative: a key ring with no keys on it. Unusual events occur whenever the key ring is present.

Have you ever used story starters or writing prompts? Where do you find inspiration for writing fiction? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Storytelling Exercise: Tone and Mood

Today I’d like to share an excerpt from Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which helps beginning to intermediate storytellers develop fiction writing skills. This exercise is from chapter sixty, and it’s called “Tone and Mood.” Enjoy!

Tone and Mood

Tone and mood give a story a sense of atmosphere—how a story feels—its emotional sensibility.

Atmosphere is often established through a story’s setting: An old abandoned Victorian mansion beneath a full moon on a windy night can elicit a dark and creepy atmosphere. However, tone and mood can also come from the characters. A clumsy, awkward character can evoke a humorous tone for a story. And events can shape a story’s tone and mood; consider the difference in tone between a story about a star athlete making it to the big leagues versus a story about the effects of war on a combat veteran.

Tone and mood may also be driven by a story’s genre. For example, the identifying feature of horror is that it’s scary. Romance is romantic. Any genre can be infused with comedy, although there is little humor in a tragedy. An adventure story can be lighthearted or terrifying; a science-fiction story can be thrilling or cerebral; a mystery can be grim or gritty, or both.

One author might use a consistent tone throughout all of their works. Another might use different tones for different projects. And some authors use multiple tones in a single story: A suspenseful scene can follow a funny scene, or a tense scene can follow a sad scene. The tone can even change within a scene: A light or casual moment can turn grave in an instant. A changing tone affects the rhythm of a story, giving it emotional and atmospheric cadence.

Sometimes tone and mood develop naturally from the story’s characters, plot, and setting. Other times, tone and mood might be unclear, and it’s up to us, as authors, to establish a story’s emotional atmosphere.

Study:

Create a simple outline of about five chapters from a novel you’ve read, and then write a couple of sentences describing the tone throughout these chapters. Then scan through the text, and mark any changes in tone. When you’re done, review the story’s structure through the lens of tone. What is the overall tone? Can you detect a pattern? How do the tone and mood change as the story builds up to its climax, or do they remain static?

Practice:

Choose two descriptive words for how your story will feel—its tone and mood. Here are a few examples: lighthearted and adventurous, dark and humorous, or mysterious and contemplative. Create a quick sketch for a story, including at least three characters, a setting, and a one-paragraph summary of the plot. Be sure to include details about how the tone and mood will be established. For example, a dark and humorous story might be set in a mortuary with a fumbling, silly protagonist.

Questions:

What effect does tone have on readers? Can tone and mood be used to strengthen a story’s characters, plot, or theme? What are some ways authors can communicate a story’s tone and mood throughout the narrative? How is tone related to genre, or are they related? What happens when the tone and genre are contrasted (humor within a horror story)? Do you prefer stories with a consistent tone and mood throughout, or do you prefer a story that takes you on an emotional ride, moving through a range of tones and moods?

 

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fixing Split Ends: How to End a Story Perfectly

Some writers know what their ending will be right from the start. Others discover it in the course of writing the story, because even if you have an outline, things change. You get a better idea, or a character becomes more interesting than you expected. But not knowing how to end a story in a way that satisfies you (or an editor) is why many people abandon stories. What keeps going wrong?

Even well-known writers abandon stories sometimes—the feel for the story disappears, or something else seems more urgent.

Some stories are more like exercises—and don’t aim to be polished, finished works.

But if you have stories that you feel are interesting and well-executed (up until the end) and this keeps happening, let’s look at a few things you can do to break that no-ending barrier.

Identify the Problem, Then Troubleshoot:


You got through all the things you wanted to do in the story or novel, and now there’s nothing left to say.

A fairly common problem in writing stories is that the conflict isn’t visible enough. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to identify a conflict, because the focus has been on character.

Suggestions:

  • Look at what your character had to face in the course of the story and ask why and how and what changed because of it.
  • Heighten the difficulties and their implications.

You got to the big climactic scene and you haven’t a clue what to do now. What should happen?

Sometimes you can’t figure out what to do because nothing was really in jeopardy. You’ve given the main character a problem, and you’ve got to the point where the problem drives the action, but what you don’t have is how this matters to the character.

Suggestion:

  • Stop worrying about action and imagine the emotional components that brought your protagonist here. What does this conflict do to your character’s way of life?

The ending is in line with the conflict, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t have a punch.

You’ve avoided doing anything risky or unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that the ending is soft. I’m afraid you’ve got to shake things up completely in order to make this come alive—and the first thing to do is to… change the main character. You might have been coasting here because you haven’t forced yourself to actually imagine someone with different needs from your own.

Suggestions:

  • Imagine someone totally unlike you, who wouldn’t make the same choices you would make.
  • In the first big branch of the story, force your character to choose a dramatically different path from the one you gave him or her. Surprise yourself by figuring out why someone would do that different thing.

Everyone says: very nicely written, nice story; sorry but we’ll pass.

This is similar to the above, only this time the story is good but forgettable—when they put it down they really don’t have anything to hold on to.

Suggestions:

  • Shake up your story.
  • For example, about one-third of the way in, have a catastrophe happen—it can be personal or atmospheric, small or large, but what it does is create a background problem that your foreground problem has to play itself against. This automatically ramps up your story, and it forces you to reconcile both large and small issues at the end.

No one believes the ending. Which is weird, because it actually happened.

Never think that what actually happened makes for a convincing story. You’ve trapped yourself here by falling prey to determinism. The story doesn’t work because there was no free will.

Suggestions:

  • Go back one or two decisions in the plot, and change it. Whatever actually happened before you get to the end, change it.
  • Make yourself think about what’s going on and why; then write what that character would cause or do.
  • Another way to handle this is to switch the characters—have “what actually happened” happen to someone who wasn’t there. That should force you to rethink the narrative arc.

You can’t get a good last line.

What was your story’s opening line? Go back and look at it for a while. Where does that first line suggest the story is going?

Suggestions:

  • In some cases, the first line or paragraph contains the idea for the last line. (This is especially true for short stories.)
  • In other cases, you should pick up on a metaphor or image that mattered to your protagonist in the course of the book.

How to End a Story: More Tips and Tricks

Most of the time, you’ll figure out how to end a story. But what if you have a solid story but no good ideas on how to wrap it up? Nothing works in your head or on paper; you’re stymied. Are there any tricks that can help?

Return to a Backup Point

If you just can’t get it to work, go back a few paragraphs or even a page, throw that out, and start again.

Try not to re-read the part you’re about to abandon. You may have written yourself into a corner. (This can also work if you’ve stopped in the middle of a story, rather than the end.)

It can help to start in the middle of a paragraph, or in the middle of a piece of dialogue—someplace where you can pick up on the action or dialogue. Then see where it goes. You may find that the new version takes you in a slightly different direction.

Write past the End

If you know what you want to do, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like an ending (too abrupt, too inconclusive, etc.), then just assume that really isn’t the ending.

Keep going. See where it really stops. You can try different directions: what happened next, how a character viewed what happened next; what unexpected consequences resulted, etc. Picture characters or setting a week later, a year later, a decade later—does that suggest anything?

Work on Your Closing Line

If you’re stuck trying to get that last paragraph or that last, brilliant line, maybe you can pick up on a symbol or image you’ve used in the story. It can be a tree, a place, a song, a sound—something you may have used without thinking about it too much.

Or it’s something you can go back and develop (and you may find that it adds resonance, too, to the story you’ve already written). Use a recurring image to develop the character’s epiphany or the resolution of the story.

Create Closure

You can also use circularity to bring your story neatly to a close. If you opened with a character driving, for instance, to his/her plot device, you can close with a car scene and some enlightenment that goes with it.

In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, both the first dramatic scene and the closing scene of the novel involve children flying kites: different children under vastly different circumstances.

Add an Aftermath

You can conclude with general consequences after the conflict is over—the world is better; the world is worse.

You can even demonstrate how easily the world got past the private tragedy in a story. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” after the grueling experience of Gregor Samsa’s transformation resulted in his death, the family is rejuvenated. The ending contrasts the new sense of life they now have, outside the constricted apartment where Gregor lived his insect life. They begin to see their futures again, symbolized by the health and vitality of their daughter (her actions are in contrast with their son’s rigid insect body): “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.”

Change Some Choices

Finally, be aware that stories that refuse to end properly may reflect a problem earlier in the story. Perhaps you went in the wrong direction and now the concept is falling apart. Perhaps your character needs to do something different, or the big conflict is the wrong conflict. You may have chosen the wrong point of view, the wrong voice, the wrong central character. What can you change about the story itself that would make you interested in it? What annoys you about the story? Remove it.

Don’t Know How to End Your Story? Keep Thinking!

Maybe you won’t always know your ending right from the start, but if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll find it.

By Karen Heuler

Source: refiction.com

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How to Write a Short Story: Free Tutorial

Short stories were once the training grounds for the best writers in the world. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and Stephen King learned the craft of writing through short stories before they published their first novels. Even though short stories have gone out of favor, they are still the best way for writers to learn the craft quickly.

In this free tutorial, you will learn why short stories are important for aspiring writers, how to write a short story, and how to submit your short stories to magazines and get them published.

Ten Steps to Publishing Short Stories

This effective tutorial will be conveniently delivered to your email inbox in ten manageable chunks. You’ll also get links to helpful resources and professional services. Here are the topics we’ll cover:

 

How to Write a Short Story

Everyone needs a little kick in the pants every once in a while. If you want to write but have been struggling with the discipline to do it, this tutorial will help by providing practical challenges given with a dose of inspiration.

Get Published

Thousands of literary magazines exist today to publish up and coming writers like you. This tutorial will help you discover those magazines and submit your short stories the right way so you can get published sooner.

Source: thewritepractice.com

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Writing Backstory Through Dialogue

Backstory is one of the trickier elements of writing. We have to take our readers back in time to let them know some of the past, but how do we do it without interrupting the flow of the story? Jerry Jenkins is here today to discuss one of the more organic methods for including character backstory without grinding the action to a halt.

What are we to do now that the flashback has fallen into disfavor with today’s readers? Apparently they no longer have the patience for a sudden stop in the story so we can show how our character got where she is today.

Used to be you could invent something to remind her of her childhood or her relationship with her father or the first time she fell in love. Then you’d have her daydream or zone out and remember everything about some poignant incident from years past.

Well, I agree that got to be a clichè—always followed by someone somehow jarring her back to the present.

Regardless, we’re writing for people who get most of their information from screens, so what do we do?

Tell Your Story in Order

Gone is the luxury of taking the character (and the reader) back and rendering the old incident the way it happened. Readers want to read chronologically, and they don’t like the story put on hold to accommodate a flashback.

But we can’t ignore the past without throwing character motivation out with the bathwater. Our characters are who they are and do what they do because of who they once were and what happened to them then.

So what’s the solution?

Good news! You can include your character’s backstory without interrupting the flow of your story.

Backstory is the new solution, and I have to admit it’s better. It doesn’t slow the story, doesn’t force us to artificially create for our heroes a block of time during which they relive some powerful past experience.

What is Backstory?

Don’t mistake it for an abbreviated form of flashback. In its simplest form, backstory is everything that’s happened to your character before your novel opens. In essence you’re writing backstory when you identify a middle-aged man as “General so-and-so,” or a young woman as “Dr. so-and-so.”

Such people weren’t born with those titles and the roles they imply, so immediately readers realize these characters have pasts—and they can even imagine what they were like.

Does your character have a scar? That implies backstory. A limp? It will emerge whether it was congenital or the result of an injury or disease, but regardless, that’s backstory.

How to Write Backstory Through Dialogue

Flashbacks are obvious. They scream, “We’re headed into the past!” But backstory sneaks up on you. Use it over a flashback to avoid breaking the flow of your story. I’ve found the best way to manage this is through dialogue.

Backstory example (at an amusement park):

“You’re not getting me on that ride, Madison,” Suzie said, “Don’t even—”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Still having those dreams?”

Suzie looked away. “Not so much anymore, but once in a while.”

“You’d think after all these years…”

“I’d still rather not talk about it, okay?”

“Sure, sorry.”

See all we’ve learned from that otherwise innocuous exchange? Something years ago still causes nightmares. Naturally, we’ll eventually have to pay off on that set-up, and that’s what keeps readers turning pages.

Whatever the trauma was, you can hint at it like this more and more throughout the story, revealing more each time. Eventually something or someone from her past will show up and force the issue—and the whole story will come out.

But you see the difference? It’ll be onstage now, be recounted and explained now. Sure, it happened years ago, but it emerges as part of the current story. That’s subtly using backstory without resorting to flashback.

One More…

One of the best uses of backstory I’ve seen is from the 2016 movie The Magnificent Seven.

Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter and leader of the titular seven. Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a sharpshooter.

They’re strategizing to protect a town and avenge a woman who saw her husband shot to death. Robicheaux nods toward the woman and says to Chisolm, “She’d be about the same age as your sister, wouldn’t she?”

“Uh-huh.”

Robicheaux says, “Just want to make sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us instead of the battle behind us.”

That’s it. That’s the backstory. We don’t know what it means, but we know we’re going to find out. They’re not going to set up something like that and not tell us what happened. We’re going to find that our hero, Sam Chisolm, was once a victim.

Is he really out to protect somebody out of a sense of honor, or is he out for personal revenge? That’s the perfect example.

Tell me in the comments below how you’ll use backstory in your work in progress. And feel free to share a favorite example of backstory you’ve heard or read.

By Jerry B. Jenkins

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Making a Living as a Life Story Writer

A business card left at a coffee shop that garners a $50,000+ writing gig. Same card, different coffee shop, that results in a feature story in a local publication.

No, it’s not the card that’s magic, but the profession it advertises: life story writer. Those were only two of the many strokes of good luck I’ve had since I started my career as a life story and family history writer nearly ten years ago. The genre, also known as personal history, serves a population of mostly older adults eager to preserve their stories without having to do the writing themselves. The books are intended for family and friends, not the wider public, so there’s no need for queries, book proposals, agents, or publishers—just a client willing to invest the time and money to record their cherished memories

Here’s how it works: I sit down with a client for a series of interviews in which we talk about their growing-up years, their parents and siblings and relatives, their first loves, their war experiences, their careers, their challenges and joys, their reflections on what it all means—in other words, anything they feel moved to talk about. In between interviews, I’m at my desk, shaping our transcripts into a compelling narrative that will, if I’m doing my job right, give future generations a glimpse of family members they may or may not have ever met.

This kind of writing does more than reveal the character of the narrator; it also brings to life long-ago eras. Think about it: The fifty years or so that separates the generation of grandparents from their grandchildren means that they will each spend the bulk of their life in two vastly different worlds—even if they live in the same town. It’s the difference between a horse-drawn plow and an air-conditioned combine, between a one-room schoolhouse and a middle school with a thousand kids, between an outhouse and a heated toilet seat. The world is changing fast; people who hire me want their descendants to know what the world used to look like.

Why has it been so easy to find clients and publicity? Two reasons. The first is a swell in interest in life stories. With genealogy the second most searched topic on the internet (I’ll leave you to imagine the first), with DNA kits topping the list of holiday gifts and shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” topping the charts, it’s clear that people are curious about their roots. And because we’re storytelling creatures, it’s only natural that the focus should swing from data—birthdates, death dates, cemetery plot numbers—to what we really love: the stories that bring it all to life.

And the second reason I’ve been able to make a living as a life story writer? Supply and demand. There may be loads of clients wanting to hire someone to write their story, but there aren’t loads of writers to do so. I’m guessing that’s because most writers have never heard of this niche. What a shame. Not only is it a way to earn your keep by writing, but it allows you to connect with people on a level we seldom reach with any but our closest friends. All while helping to create something your clients will love.

By Amy Woods Butler

Source: fundsforwriters.com

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Writing Scary Stories & Horror for Kids: 4 Lessons from Goosebumps Author R.L. Stine

There is a fine line between scary and funny when it comes to clowns, ventriloquist dummies and other creepy ghouls, but author R.L. Stine heads straight for the dark side. For more than 25 years, Stine has been writing horror for kids around the world with his Goosebumps series, which has sold over 350 million copies in 32 languages.

From the age of nine, Stine knew he wanted to be a writer. Initially, he dreamed of writing humor—not horror—on the old typewriter he found in his attic. While attending Ohio State, he became editor for a humor magazine at the college for three years. When he moved to New York, he fulfilled his dream to write full-time by writing fake celebrity interviews for a fan magazine where he learned to write fast and use his imagination. Soon after he landed a job at Scholastic where he shifted gears to write for younger audiences. For sixteen years he worked as the editor for the kids’ humor magazine, Bananas.

 

 

Stine’s big genre change happened when a friend of his at Scholastic asked him if he ever thought about writing horror for young adults. He hadn’t. She suggested he write a book for this audience with the title Blind Date. Four months later, the book became a bestseller. More books followed, along with a new series, Fear Street. He found some success with this audience, but when it was suggested that he write horror for kids—younger kids, ages 7-12—Goosebumps was born.

The first few books in the series were published without much hype or marketing power behind them. Sales remained flat for 3–4 months before word of mouth kicked in. Stine called it the secret kids’ network. Kids started talking about the books with their friends, sales shot up, and the rest is history. He continues to write and publish for this series, putting out new books each year.

Here are some quotes from Stine along with thoughts and insights in writing horror for young readers as well as writing in general.

“When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me and try to put those feelings into books.” 

Stine grew up a fearful child. He draws on his memories of what scared him to create the stories for Goosebumps. Think back to your childhood. What scared you? Dig deep into the depths of your imagination to find those moments and remember the emotions and feelings associated with those situations and bring them into your writing. 

“My thinking is that these books are entertainment. I’m very careful to keep reality out of it. The real world is much scarier than these books. So, I don’t do divorce, even. I don’t do drugs. I don’t do child abuse. I don’t do all the really serious things that would interfere with the entertainment.”

Adults and kids read horror books for the adrenaline and emotional rush that comes from being scared. When writing for young readers, Stine’s one rule is that it can’t be too realistic. It’s important to him that his readers know his stories are fantasy and can’t really happen. If you are writing scary stories for children, spend time in your creative mind and develop situations and storylines where you take your reader to dark and frightening places, but nothing too close home. Because as Stine says, real life is scary enough. 

“It’s my job, too, to keep up with pop culture and what the kids are into because I don’t want to sound like an old man trying to write for kids. I spend a lot of my time spying on them.” 

Successful children’s authors understand that their young readers are smart. Kids want to read books where the author understands their world and the issues they face. Technology and social media along make life for young people today very different than it was for previous generations. As a writer it is up to you to keep up with current culture and write stories that resonate and connect with kids today. 

“If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block.”

Stine is a prolific writer with hundreds of published books. He has a system that works for him and allows him to put out 4 to 6 new books each year. He is a plotter who creates a complete chapter-by-chapter outline of each book. When it comes time to write the book, he’s already done the important thinking and knows everything that is going to happen. This allows him to relax and enjoy the writing. As writers, we all have our own styles and systems and approaches to the writing process. To be successful and achieve the goals you have set out for yourself, it is essential that you find what works for you. If you consistently miss the mark or your productivity is not what you want it to be, then you should examine how you approach your writing life. Maybe it is time to switch from being a “Panster” to being more of a planner like Stine.

By Kerrie Flanagan
Source: writersdigest.com

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