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

Important Parts Of Life.

A beautiful poem to touch the heart and soul.

REFLECTIONS OF A MINDFUL HEART AND SOUL

Darkness and light

are both intertwined

among the threads

of my life’s fabric.

Found on Pinterest on 12-17-16. Stephen Hayward. Stars

Love and fear

are found at

the intersection of

commitments I make.

Beauty and truth

are found when I

contemplate my desire

for what is good.

Respect and faith

are a part of

any relationship

where trust endures.

Life and death

are journeys I

must endure

to embrace eternity.

 -Yu/stan/kema-

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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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Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes in Your Novel?

Can a Story Still Be Compelling with a “Quiet” Black Moment?

Ruined structure in desolate landscape with text: Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, worked with beat sheets, or studied story structure, you’re probably familiar with the idea of a Black Moment turning point around the 75-80% mark of our story. If not, Black Moment is an event in our story that steals the protagonist’s hope for a solution by Jamie Gold at:  https://jamigold.com/blog/

A story’s Black Moment (also called the Second (or Third) Plot Point, Crisis, or “All Is Lost” point, depending on the story structure system) is usually one of the most emotional sections of a story, as our heroes despair and give up. We can probably all think of several examples of Black Moments in books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen.

Is our story doomed if it doesn’t have a big Black Moment?CLICK TO TWEETHowever, not all Black Moments fit into a single style. Many Black Moments that stick with us are “loud,” and that can make writers with “quiet” Black Moments in their stories despair.

Are they doing something wrong? Should they completely change their plot to create a more catastrophic crisis point?

Let’s take a closer look at this turning point and at how we can make either style of Black Moment work for our readers

What Are Black Moment Events?

As I shared in my guest post about translating story beats to any genre, in a romance, the Black Moment is often the “boy loses girl” plot point. They lose trust in each other and/or the potential of the relationship and break up, have a big fight, expose lies, etc.

In my Mythos Legacy novels, the Black Moments are fairly “loud,” as they include betrayals, abandonments, kidnappings, soul-crushing shame, etc. It seems like the couple can’t reach their Happily Ever After.

In other genres, an event similarly makes the protagonist give up or fear they can’t win:

  • Mysteries: the protagonist is kicked off the case, the next victim in the murderer’s sights is friend/family, etc.
  • Thrillers: the protagonist loses the trail, the villain has acquired all the weapon’s pieces, etc.

Style #1: “Loud” Black Moments

As in the examples above, the Black Moments that stick with us tend to be catastrophic. Maybe the antagonist is bigger, stronger, or more pervasive than the protagonist thought. Maybe the protagonist has been betrayed. Or maybe they just lost their mentor.

We might even say the protagonist symbolically “dies,” as they’re stripped of their hopes, goals, or plans. The characters will seem further from their destination (goals) than ever, and in many cases, readers shouldn’t see a solution either.

Style #2: “Quiet” Black Moments

Yet not every type of story includes a catastrophe. For example, some stories are more about a character’s emotional journey than critical plot events. Stories in the romance genre might not include a break-up scene or other type of major loss.

No matter the genre, protagonists doubt their ability to succeed, but escape any devastating obstacles. They simply lose hope in potential—potential of a relationship, success, teaching humanity to be better, etc.

In fact, these Black Moments can be so “quiet” that they’re hard to identify. As readers, we might not notice. As writers, however, we might be concerned that our story is “broken.”

Making Our Black Moment Work for Our Story

Guideline #1: Tell the Story We Want to Tell

The worst thing we can do is try to force the wrong style of Black Moment into our story. If a horrible catastrophe doesn’t fit our story, we shouldn’t try to shoehorn one in just because that’s what we’ve heard about Black Moments.

Just as every story has different tones or moods, our story has a unique style that includes the type of conflicts, obstacles, and stakes our characters face. Some stories’ styles go big, with life-and-death stakes and “loud” Black Moments, and some stories don’t.

Bigger doesn’t equal better. The two styles are simply different.

Guideline #2: Fulfill the Story Purpose of the Black Moment

A Black Moment triggers the protagonist to lose hope, but what that looks like can be very different depending on the style of our turning point. Essentially, we need an event that forces the protagonist to leave some aspect of their old life behind, kicking off the change necessary for the story ending.

Story Purpose for “Loud” Black Moments

  • In plot-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist’s plans for success literally impossible, and they reach a dead end.
  • In character-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment emotionally breaks the protagonist, and whatever progress they’ve made along their internal arc now seems like a mistake.

Whatever happens (and however those two types of focuses are combined), the protagonist is so devastated that they give up despite the consequences. Those stakes that have been carrying them through the rest of the story aren’t enough to force them through this defeat. They give up.

Understandably, these “loud” Black Moments typically require pages or even a whole scene or two to explore, as the catastrophe (a break up, betrayal, death, monster escapes capture, etc.) occurs on the page. The fallout from that event can take even more pages or scenes, as the protagonist deals with the depression, loss of hope, plot consequences of giving up, etc. that results.

Story Purpose for “Quiet” Black Moments

  • In plot-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist struggle with a sense of defeat, and they’re unable to see how to reach their goals.
  • In character-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist worry that they’re not up to the task, and they feel like their efforts have been a waste of time.

Whatever happens, the protagonist doubts their ability to succeed and at least fleetingly thinks that they should just give up because it’s hopeless. The plans they have for how to move forward are obviously not going to work, and now they feel incapable of figuring out a Plan B.

Not surprisingly, these “quiet” Black Moments require far fewer pages to explore. The trigger for their doubt might be only a paragraph or a page or two, and the fallout from that trigger—as they struggle with feeling like a failure—might be only a few paragraphs or pages before they rally and vow to change their approach and redouble their efforts.

Guideline #3: Fulfill the Reader Purpose of the Black Moment

The turning points in our stories aren’t just there for storytelling purposes, kicking off the next section of the story. Story structure has a reader purpose as well.

The reader purpose of the Black Moment is to make readers more emotionally invested in the story.

  • For “loud” Black Moments, the outcome of the story should be in doubt, as it looks like we’ve written ourselves into a corner. Readers want the emotional twist as their hopes are dashed (to be later reignited).
  • For “quiet” Black Moments, readers must believe that the protagonist feels the outcome of the story is in doubt. Readers might know that things aren’t as bad as the characters think (maybe there’s just a miscommunication, etc.), but they empathize with the protagonist’s worries that they’re not up to the task.

For example, in a romance without a catastrophic “boy loses girl” scene, the Black Moment may simply be another step of the couple’s romantic journey into a relationship. In those types of stories, readers might never question whether a couple will make it due to a catastrophe, but one or both partners will struggle with the idea of couple-dom.

Guideline #4: Take a Lesson from “Quiet” Stakes

Stakes are the consequences of failure, and Black Moments show our characters’ biggest failure. So learning how to strengthen “quiet” stakes might help us strengthen our “quiet” Black Moment as well.

Here are 7 ways to make even “quiet” Black Moments work for our story…CLICK TO TWEETBig stakes—even “blow up the Earth” big—are meaningless to readers unless they’re given a reason to care. We could read about the entire Milky Way galaxy succumbing to a black hole in a story and not feel a thing.

In other words, stakes aren’t about the size of the destruction. Similarly, Black Moments aren’t about the size of the catastrophe.

Instead, the more readers care, the more they’ll want to witness the protagonist’s reactions to the Black Moment and see how they rally after their despair. To make readers care, the Black Moment must matter personally to our protagonist, and we need to show the emotional fallout of their loss of hope.

Guideline #5: Show the Protagonist’s Vulnerability

With either style of Black Moment, the protagonist’s wounds, flaws, and false beliefs should be fully on the page, contributing to their self-image of failure.

In a romance, a character might:

  • debate whether the relationship is worth it,
  • struggle with opening themselves up to be vulnerable (knowing the relationship would be at a dead end if they don’t),
  • fear that nothing will come from their efforts,
  • believe whatever they do is never enough, etc.

We just need to give a sense of a dead end for at least a few paragraphs to build enough bare bones of a Black Moment to fulfill the function.

Guideline #6: Show the Effects of the Black Moment

No matter the style of our Black Moment, our story needs the context for the effectof the trigger on the page so readers know how to feel. If our characters don’t seem to care or react to a Black Moment, the required turning point does not exist, no matter how “loud.”

What makes any Black Moment work—but is especially important to emphasize and bring out of the subtext in a “quiet” one—is for the protagonist to believe they’ve failed or can’t measure up. It’s not about convincing readers that our protagonist has failed in any way, but about our protagonist thinking they’ve failed. Readers will go along with their feelings.

Guideline #7: Ensure a Point of No Return

The Black Moment is one of the four major turning points of our story. As a major turning point, the trigger must create a point of no return.

  • In plot-focused stories, the old plans to deal with the story problem will neverwork, and the characters have to change their approach.
  • In character-focused stories, the protagonist has to face all their worries, fears, false beliefs, etc. driving their sense of failure, and they’ll never again be able to pretend those thoughts and feelings don’t exist.

To read more of Jamie Gold’s post go to: https://jamigold.com/blog/

Ten Myths About Creativity by Melissa Donovan

 

 

 

 

 

 

reblogged from Writing Forward, by Melissa Donovan on March 6, 2018, 

https://www.writingforward.com/  (An excerpt from Melissa Donovan’s book, 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.)

This excerpt is from “Chapter Nine: Creativity,” which offers insights and tips to help you stay inspired and creative as a writer. The excerpt I’ve chosen presents ten myths about creativity. These are notions about creativity that people assume, even though many of them are counterproductive to creativity.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

There’s an old myth floating around, which suggests that creativity is inherent. You’re either born with it or you’re born without it. But creativity can be learned and developed over time. Some people may have a more natural inclination toward creative thinking, but anyone can foster and nurture creativity.

Artists throughout the ages have gone to great lengths and sunk to fathomless lows in pursuit of inspiration. The ancient Greeks personified inspiration in the muses. When they needed inspiration, they invoked these supernatural entities, calling on them for artistic help. Artists have set out on journeys, pursued spiritual and religious activities, and engaged in painful or unhealthy experiences in order to feed their imaginations.

Indeed, there are famous examples of authors drinking themselves to death or committing suicide, and of course, there is the well-known tale of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off part of his own ear. And finally, there’s the ever-present stereotype of the starving artist.

Despite these tales of suffering and tragedy among authors and artists, the most successful creative people tend toward more practical measures, choosing lifestyles and habits that are healthy and conducive to creativity. Unfortunately, these destructive myths about creativity persist.

Ten Myths about Creativity

1. Drugs and alcohol: One of the worst myths about artistry is that drugs and alcohol promote creativity. That’s a lie. What drugs and alcohol do is promote dependence. It is ineffective and inefficient to rely on these substances in order to make art. It’s also unhealthy, and in fact, it can be deadly.

2.Misery: Another common myth is that pain, sorrow, and anger are the best conduits for creativity. Sure, when we are unhappy, writing can provide a healthy, therapeutic outlet. But this has nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with the need to express oneself. While misery may indeed inspire us, we can be just as inspired by happy or emotionally neutral experiences. Relying on a depressive state of mind for inspiration is just as dangerous as relying on drugs and alcohol. And like drugs and alcohol, such thinking is unhealthy and can be deadly.

3.Suffering: This myth is based on the idea that artistry is won through suffering. Some people actually believe that artists should suffer, and suffer hard, before they get to succeed. What you have to do to succeed is work hard. You shouldn’t have to suffer.

4.Divinity: There are less dangerous myths about creativity and inspiration. Some people believe that creativity makes a divine appearance only when they are supposed to create, and the rest of the time, they shouldn’t bother. We all have moments of great inspiration. They come and go and are rare for most of us. The most successful writers don’t wait for inspiration, they work for it. Regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs, we can learn to control our own creativity just as we control other aspects of our lives. It’s called free will.

4.Talent: Lots of people believe that creativity is inherently tied to talent. Talent just means you have a knack for something. Lots of creative people may not be especially talented, and there are plenty of talented individuals with no interest in pursuing the arts.

5.Two kinds of people: Some people are artistic; everyone else is not. That’s definitely not true. Everyone is creative, and the more we nurture and foster creativity, the more creative we become. Creativity is closely associated with the arts, but artists aren’t the only people who are creative.

6.Life of poverty: Many people believe that it’s practically impossible to succeed or make a living as any kind of artist. They mistakenly believe that an artist’s life is one of poverty and struggle. All kinds of people experience poverty—not just artists—and artists who do experience poverty don’t do so just because they are artists, as is proven by the many artists who never struggled with poverty.

7.Fame and fortune: Conversely, some people believe that artists will enjoy great fame and fortune. While it’s possible that you could write a wildly best-selling novel and become rich and famous, it’s not likely, although the odds are better for you than for someone working in a cubicle-eight-hours a day who doesn’t make any art at all. At least you have a shot at fame and fortune.

8.Creative people are weird: everybody’s weird.

9.Creative people are creative all the time or whenever they want to create: Once you’ve shown yourself to be creative, some people will think you’re capable of doing anything that requires creativity or that you’re a constant fountain of ideas. While many creative people have more ideas than they know what to do with, some have to work hard at finding inspiration.

10.The truth is that creativity is different for everyone and possible for anyone. You just have to want it, and you might have to work for it.

 

Why We Celebrate March 14th – Happy Pi (TT) Day !

 Pi Day spotlights one of math’s most seductive numbers! by Dan Rockmore.

Why do we celebrate the number pi (π) on March 14? Because it’s the fourteenth day of the third month of the year, and 3 and 14 are the first three digits of pi’s decimal expansion. If you really want to show you’re a pi aficionado, you can start your celebration at 1:59 p.m. and 26 seconds, because with those five additional digits you have pi’s first eight digits: 3.1415926.

Those eight numbers are just the beginning of pi’s true value. Unlike most numbers we encounter in everyday life, pi has digits to the right of the decimal point that go on not just for a long time but forever — and in an unpredictable way. The Swiss mathematician Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that in 1761.

The short way to say this is that pi is an irrational number, one that cannot be represented as a fraction and thus has an infinite and never-repeating decimal expansion. And since the 19th Century, pi has been known to be transcendental, meaning that no combination of its powers can add up to a whole number. This distinguishes it again from more familiar irrational numbers like the square root of two (whose second power is equal to two).

REAL-WORLD REFLECTIONS

You don’t have to be a mathematician or even a “math person” to find pi fascinating. We all learned as students that pi represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, or, as we might put that mathematically, π = c/d. But not every student fully appreciates the fact that the ratio stays constant no matter how big or how small the circle.

Pi is an ideal. It characterizes the relationship between measurements of a perfect circle in a Platonic world. But we see its real-world reflection all around us. It’s present in coins, plates, those circular irrigation ponds you see from airplanes, and other familiar objects — pi is embedded within them all. The same is true for three-dimensional objects like spheres and cylinders. As long as something is round, pi applies.

And pi isn’t just about round things. Famously, it’s a piece of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which quantifies the level of precision one can obtain when making measurements at the subatomic level. Closer to home, pi is part of a formula used to price investment risk. Pi both leaves nothing to chance and helps measures chance.

ANCIENT ORIGINS

Pi is as timeless as it is unchanging. Our ancestors knew about pi at least as far back as 4,000 years ago, even if a Greek letter wasn’t used to denote it until 1647. The Bible contains an implicit reference to pi: A cylindrical vat used by Hiram in the “Book of Kings” is said to measure 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around. (30/10 = 3, which at least gives the first digit of pi.) The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians made their own estimates of pi’s value, and Archimedes famously used a clever geometric argument to place the value of pi between 22/7 and 223/71.

While both of those fractions come close to representing the actual value of pi, we’re always coming up with better ways to express pi’s value. Recent attempts tend to rely not on geometry but on mysterious formulas like the one often taught in first-year calculus:

 Mathematical formula

And this is just one of many “infinite series” representations for pi.

The Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan — you may know him from the 1991 book and 2015 movie “The Man Who Knew Infinity” — owes his fame, in part, to his pursuit of elaborate formulas for the reciprocal of pi, or “one over pi” in the common parlance. Ramanujan’s formulas reveal mysterious connections between pi and patterns in prime numbers — whole numbers like 2, 3, 5, and 7 that are divisible only by themselves and one.

GOING TO EXTREMES

Fascinating as they are in their own right, formulas like Ramanujan’s provide the starting point for the “extreme computing” efforts to calculate pi we’ve all read about in recent years. In 2016, computer whiz Peter Trueb made headlines when he used an ingenious computational configuration to calculate pi to mind-blowing 22,459,157,718,361 decimal points.

Related

While some people use computers to calculate ever-more-accurate values for pi, others memorize pi to thousands of digits and then recite them aloud in a public setting — as if reciting a sonnet for robots. The current Guiness Book world record holder here is Rajveer Meena from India, who in 2015 recited 70,000 digits of pi before stopping.

So while we differ in the ways we think about pi and work with pi, we can all come together today to celebrate the seductive powers it has over our minds. So on this March 14, take a moment to contemplate this remarkable constant — maybe over a slice of pie. Here in Dartmouth’s math department, we’ll have a nice selection — and we’ll start at precisely at 1:59 and 26 seconds.

Just for good measure.

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