K. D. Dowdall

Pen and Paper

How to Write Better Stories

better stories

A few insights to help you write better stories.

You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.

Isn’t that the kind of story you want to write?

Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the time the second act gets underway, I move on and find something more intriguing.

As a reader, I’m on a perpetual quest for better stories. What does that mean for writers? 

1. The Best Fiction Sticks

I’ve been thinking about what makes some books so easy to put down and what makes others impossible to let go of. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, for example, I had the strangest feeling that Holden Caulfield was a real person. I expected him to come walking around some corner and start mumbling about the lousy week he was having. This sensation lingered for a few days, both times I read the book.

But let’s go back further. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was about six years old. Then I read it again. And again, and again. I watched the animated film over and over. No matter how many times I read the book or watched the movie, I always cried at the end. To this day, quotes from the book and scenes from the film get me choked up. It’s a story that sticks.

A few years ago, I couldn’t put down The Hunger Games. I’m a science-fiction fan, so the dystopian world intrigued me, but what really kept me glued to the page was the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She wasn’t fearless, but she was brave, strong, and honorable.

Stories like these haunt readers, lingering in hearts and minds. These are the best kinds of stories.

2.  Writing Better Stories

If we want to write better stories, we need to read the best fiction and figure out what makes it so excellent. When I’m absorbed in a book, I always try to keep one corner of my mind focused on what the writer is doing so brilliantly to keep my full attention on the story. Some things are obvious: compelling characters, an interesting plot, realistic dialogue. Other elements of the best fiction are more elusive. Here are some observations I’ve made about how to write better stories:

3.  Give People a Reason to Read

If I get to the third chapter of a book and still don’t care about it, I’ll probably put it in the donation pile. The characters have to want something badly enough to go out there and try to get it. They must have purpose, an objective if you will. The characters’ purpose gives me a reason to read their stories. Intriguing mysteries and unanswered questions are also good reasons to keep turning pages.

4.  Don’t Bore Your Readers

Pages of description, minute details that are neither interesting nor relevant to the plot and dull scenes that have no essential function to the story will bore readers. Keep the conflicts coming and the action moving, and your readers will stay up to read your book rather than reading it to help them fall asleep.

5.  It’s the Little Things

Too much detail and description gets boring, but the right details can make an otherwise average scene extraordinary. One liners that make readers laugh, subtle (or overt) pop culture references, and symbolism that has deeper meaning keep readers stimulated.

6.  Stimulate Imagination, Provoke Thought, and Pull Heartstrings

Speaking of stimulation, it’s one of the main reasons people enjoy reading so much. Sure, lots of readers are just looking for escape and entertainment, but plenty of us want to engage our imaginations and have our intellects challenged. Get readers emotionally involved, and not only will they enjoy your book; they’ll also become loyal fans of your work.

7.  Do Something Different

Forget about trying to be completely original. I doubt that’s possible anymore. Every story is the result of stories that have come before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your unique stamp on the canon. Give old story premises new twists and your stories will feel fresh and invigorating.

7.  Write Smooth Sentences That Make Sense

This one is last on the list for a reason. One of the best novels I recently read did not have the best sentence structures. In fact, some paragraphs were fragmented and disjointed — not so much that I couldn’t understand what was going on, but it was jarring at times. The story was strong enough that I didn’t care that much, but this type of oversight can mean the difference between a four-star and a five-star review.

8.  How Do You Write Better Stories?

When you’re reading and writing fiction, do you think about the little things that make the difference between a mediocre story and a mesmerizing story? What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? What was it about that book that made it so potent? How do you apply what you’ve learned as a reader to your own fiction? How can authors learn to write better stories? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

My brief thoughts about this article.

I found that number 4 Suggestion really stood out regarding my own writing. I really write way too much description about scenery, weather, scent, and backstory.  I started out in my life drawing scenes of people, nature, landscapes of all kinds and then as a clinical researcher, detail was everything. So, now that I have found a pertinent excuse, I can excuse my excesses, however, it is a lesson now learned.  Karen

30 thoughts on “How to Write Better Stories

  1. Jennie says:

    This is excellent, Karen. #1 is the best. Charlotte’s Web is proof, as you know. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennie, Yes! I agree completely! Who could ever forget Charlotte’s Web? No one. A hundred years from now, people will still read Charlotte’s Web! Also, I found a website called , “StoryBird.com” and it is a wonderful place to write little stories, see other people’s stories and get feedback from seasoned writers and authors. It has illustrations to illustrate your stories, all for free. You can upgrade and get so much more for a small fee. I just joined for free and I love it. You may one to check it out. Karen 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jennie says:

        Yes!! Charlotte’s Web will forever be remembered and endeared by millions. Thank you for the info on StoryBird.com. Looks wonderful! Have a great weekend. 🙂

        Like

      2. Jennie, you will really like storybird.com, it is for teachers and writers who love children’s stories and writing children stories. I like it because it appears to be very wholesome. And, you are welcome. Have a great weekend too, Jennie! Karen 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Jennie says:

        Thank you, Karen! 🙂

        Like

    1. Chris, thank you for reblogging. I really liked this post by Melissa. Karen 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Claire Plaisted – Indie Author and commented:
    Writing Better Stories

    Like

    1. Claire, thank you for reblogging. I really liked this post by Melissa too. Karen 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Welcome Karen 🙂

        Like

    1. OIKOS! Thank you for reblogging. I really liked this article by Melissa. Karen 🙂

      Like

  3. lovessiamese says:

    Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    Great writing advice. Thanks for sharing. Reblogged from https://karendowdall.com

    Like

    1. My pleasure and thank you! Karen 🙂

      Like

  4. Hi and thank you for reblogging. I think this is a great, yet simple to understand article about writing. Karen 🙂

    Like

  5. johncoyote says:

    Wonderful wisdom shared. You must kidnap the reader’s mind and keep them. Need a topic to excite the mind and the soul. This is what a book need to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John, what you wrote is exactly perfect about what a story needs to capture the reader’s total interest in the story they are reading. Thank you! Karen 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. johncoyote says:

        You are welcome Karen.

        Like

      2. My pleasure, John, and thank you for your always great poems and posts! Karen 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. V.M.Sang says:

    Reblogged this in Dragons Rule OK and commented ‘A most useful post for all writers of fiction.

    Like

    1. V. M. Thank you for reblogging. I agree, it is most useful. Karen 🙂

      Like

  7. Hi, V. M., Yes, I think so too. Thank you for reblogging. Karen 🙂

    Like

  8. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    Like

    1. Charles, thank you and you are welcome. It is a really good article I think. Karen 🙂

      Like

  9. The sad thing is, a good story has nothing to do with the Hollywood hook-them-at-the-first-line theory of writing. It IS about a truly good plot with believable characters and a story well-told and worth the telling…That, unfortunately, takes practice to discover and to master the telling of…. And while a story might take a bit to get around to the “hook”…it shouldn’t be so far in that a reader feels like they wasted their time. Good writing then is a balance between the writer’s need to tell the story and the reader’s desire to hear it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. KC, What a wonderful comment and it is pure truth! Thank you so very much. Karen 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dragon’s Rule, thank you for stopping by and I am glad you found my post useful. I think so too. Karen 🙂

      Like

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