How to Write Better Stories

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, know that I have found a pertinent excuse, I can excuse my excesses, however, it is a lesson now learned.  Karen

Ideas for Guest Blog Posts about your novel #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #Marketing

D. E., thank you so much for posting these wonderful suggestions for blogging posts! You are a life saving for many of us bloggers that are writing novels too and find time is a precious commodity.

D.E. Haggerty

I try to blog three times a week, but sometimes I can’t come up with a blog idea for the life of me. And then there’s those blog tours that want guest blog posts. Of course, I’m a glutton for punishment and also offer to write blog posts for other blogs to promote my books. Help! Calgon take me away!

calgon take me away

I don’t have a bathtub so Calgon is never going to take me away. Instead, I’ve developed a list of ideas to use for blog posts about my book. And because I’m super supportive of my fellow writers (but mostly because I couldn’t come up with an idea for today’s blog post), I’m going to share my list with you. Here goes:

Character Interview. Tried and tested. Never fails.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About (Protagonist). I find this one more fun than doing a character interview.

10 Items…

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Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

 

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower sounds delightful and a lovely fairy tale read. I am looking forward to reading it.

BOOKS FROM DUSK TILL DAWN

Firstly I wish to thank Katie Sunley of Penguin Random House for inviting me to read the second book in this amazing series.

36068234BOOK DESCRIPTION

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with…

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Moments

The moments pass,

One by one,

From dawn to dusk,

Bursting into life,

Light as air,

 

We sense their passing,

Like a shooting star,

A moment,

Across the sky,

 

Let us give,

To the moments,

What they deserve,

For theirs,

Is the strength of time,

 

For a moment in time,

Is a treasure,

Worth more,

Than the passing of a year,

 

I ask you then,

For precious moments,

We keep,

And care not,

For the dwindling years.

 

By K. D. Dowdall

 

 

 

Twas The Night Before Christmas….

 

This is the time of year where children’s books take center stage and all around us we see magical stories, Fairies, stardust, Reindeer prancing, Elf’s in fancy hats, jingles bells everywhere and snow falling. Yuletide Christmas Trees are brightly decorated with lights that sparkle, twinkle, and seem to light up the world with their glow.  While dear St. Nick travels afar, just to bring gifts to one and all.  It is a time when we can believe that there is more to the world than we can imagine and the gift of children helps us to believe in a world more wonderful than we know, and that anything is possible, if we just believe it is so. 


Delphi Altair Strange Beginnings Book 1

CHAPTER 1
THE MYSTERIOUS JOURNAL

On the day of her mother’s funeral, Megan Donnelly found a mysterious package, wrapped in faded brown paper and twine, on her dresser. She had no idea where it came from or how it got there. Somehow, despite her grief, the bundle of faded brown paper and twine seemed to have a strange power over her, as if she were spellbound. Megan was about to reach for it when her cell phone rang, startling her. She reached over to her bedside table and saw it was the geeky boy who lived in the house next door.

“Hello, Jake,” answered Megan. Megan was willing to talk to anybody, even Jake Peterson.

“I’m sorry about your mom, Megan. I really am. Is there anything I can do – like help you with your homework or something? Anyway, I was just wondering if you wanted to catch-up on what’s goin’on at school. Or, you know, I just got a brand-new Future Time game and it’s really cool. I thought maybe I could come over. It might help you, you know, take your mind off things.”

“Thanks, Jake,” replied Megan, gulping hard and trying to swallow her pain. “Maybe, but I’m kinda not into it right now. I’ll call you later.” She put her cell phone back on the table. “It isn’t fair”, she murmured. It was the saddest day of Megan Donnelly life.
Megan got up from the edge of her bed and walked over to her dresser. Her ginger-colored bangs fell over her hazel eyes in feathery wisps. She pushed the bangs aside, and as she did she looked down at her black dress shoes. She noticed bits of red dirt still clung to the bottom of her shoes. She inhaled sharply as a wave of grief enveloped her. Exhaling slowly, she picked up the package with her name scrawled on it and sat down on the edge of her bed.

She tore at the brown paper wrapping and stared at the leather-bound journal that included a lock and a silver key on a chain. She looked down at the journal on her lap and ran her fingers over the aged leather binding. It looks really old and it even smells old—like it had been wrapped in mothballs. She considered for a moment something she had not thought of— maybe my mom sent this package! It would be just like her to try and comfort me, but there was no note or card from her or anyone else. Megan slipped the silver chain with the key over her head. It felt warm against her skin. She put the key in the lock and turned it.

Thankful for any distraction from her grief, she shrugged her slender shoulders and flipped it open to the first age-yellowed page. It was written in an old style with ornate flourishes by a skilled hand—like historical letters she had seen in museums. Megan read the title aloud: “The Strange Beginnings of Delphi Altair.”
A strong breeze billowed into her room from the open window. She had not noticed until now that it was a bright sunny afternoon. It was Friday and there would be a football game at school tonight. Everyone would be there. She felt a sudden chill and got up to close the window.

As she turned around to pick up the journal she noticed the book now open to a different page and thought, that’s strange. Oh, well, it must have been the wind, of course, and scooped up the journal into her lap. What she found inserted into the journal was a letter addressed strangely: To Whom the Journal Has Found. Megan, perplexed as to who could have sent her the journal, began to read it in the hopes that it might reveal the sender.

TO WHOM THE JOURNAL HAS FOUND
AUGUST 1950

I found this journal by accident (or perhaps it found me). My mother and I had come to live with my grandmother after the untimely death of my father. The house we came to live in was a very old Sea Captain’s Manor situated on a bluff, overlooking the sea, in a time forgotten town.

One day, a very wet and windy day, I found myself with nothing to do. I was feeling sad and lonely, missing my home in New England, and my friends. In my room there was only a small bed and a very old sea chest. The house was very old and the mist of sea sprays had crept through the windows and doors over the years and I remember still the scent of sea spray on the weathered wooden walls.

Underneath the window sat the old sea chest. “The key to the chest”, my grandmother told me, “was lost long ago”. My very superstitious grandmother saw this as a sign to let it remain unopened and that was that.

Never one to let well enough of alone, I decided to see if by chance a key might have been placed on top of the wooden window frame. People did that sometimes I had been told. To reach the top of the window frame I had to stand on top of the old chest. I carefully climbed up and searched for it. To my disappointment there was no key to be found. As I gingerly stepped down off the sea chest the lid popped open, as if by magic.

I can’t say I wasn’t frightened, but then my curiosity was stronger than my fear. After all, it was just an old trunk with a rusty old lock that broke free, being so old, no magic needed. I slowly walked up to the old sea chest to see what treasure it might hold.
As I began looking through the numerous folded blankets and clothes, I saw a package wrapped in plain cloth. I opened the package to find inside a leather-bound journal. I opened the journal to the first page and on it was written, the Strange Beginnings of Delphi Altair. It was hand written in an old style with ornate flourishes. I felt oddly compelled to read this mysterious journal. Soon, I found myself being taken to a magical and dangerous place and time. I cannot say more. I daresay, to whom the journal has found, keep it safe, whatever you do. So much depends on it.

Megan sat dumbfounded. There was no signature on the written letter and not a single clue as to the author of the journal. Curious, she turned the page and began to read.

THE OLD SEA CAPTAIN’S MANOR

Beside a narrow strip of oyster shell road is an old Victorian Manor sitting high on an ancient bluff over-looking the sea. The manor was built long ago by a wealthy Sea Captain. As time went by, the Sea Captain grew older and bequeathed the manor to his sons who, in turn, bequeathed the manor to their sons.
The Old Sea Captain’s Manor had survived countless storms, gales, and violent hurricanes for more than hundred and twenty years. But oddly enough, when Eastern gale winds blow, the Old Sea Captain’s Manor begins to shake violently on its foundations.

The Tuttle family that came to live in the Old Sea Captain’s Manor was not put off by the manor’s mysterious quirks. A poor family, the Tuttles felt fortunate to live in such a grand place bequeathed to them by a far removed, extremely distant relative.
The gossiping town folk reckoned the Tuttles were strange enough, but the young girl who lived with them was more than strange. Delphi Altair had unusually bright violet eyes and a firestorm of shimmering dark red hair that almost looked purple in bright sunlight. But it wasn’t her looks, specifically, that cast Delphi in a suspicious light in the community. It was her very unusual way of being. The town folks would often say, “There is something peculiar about that girl.” Yet, no one could say exactly why.

Fortunately, the Tuttles did not care what the town’s people thought about Delphi. The Tuttles loved the strange girl that was not their own. Delphi was a foundling. They found her in an old shipman’s basket one cold morning, wrapped in a blanket. Clutched in the infant’s tiny fist was a small star-shaped pendant with a blue stone inset in the middle. A weathered parchment was pinned to the infant’s clothes. The only words written on the parchment were these: Delphinus Decima East of Altair. The Tuttles had never heard of such a place called Delphinus Decima that was East of Altair. So, they shorten the words to make her a name: Delphi Altair. The Tuttles believed it would be best to keep the infant as their own until someone came to claim the child. But no one ever came.

As time went by, the Tuttles had two children born to them, Scout and Scooter, known about town as the “scalawag” twins. By the age of eight, the mischievous and rambunctious boys, tall for their age, were without mercy to little Delphi, teasing and taunting her daily.

Most people in the old seaside town made their living in some way connected to the sea. It was a booming industry and the people in the town did fairly well by it. It was booming, that is, until the blight came to the sea and in turn to the people of this seaside town. In a small town suffering great hardship everything is suspect and nothing is ever forgotten. Someone had to be blamed for the town’s misfortune.

Delphi became the focus of all the town’s troubles. From the very beginning of the town’s decline, there was the question of Delphi’s mysterious discovery by the Tuttles on that cold winter morning. This was the mindset that kept the townspeople eyeing Delphi suspiciously (besides the fact they found her mysteriously strange anyway). Like an unchecked simmering pot, things were bound to reach a boiling point.