"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

5 Easy Steps to Great Story Writing!

by Dr John Yeoman

What’s the secret of writing a story in a jiffy - without pain or writer’s block?

There’s no shortage of ‘how to’ tips on the web. Do this, avoid that... But when you come down to it, only five things really work. Try this little 5-step plan for yourself and you’ll find, if you have any writing skill at all, the process will simplify your writing life.

Step 1. Give yourself permission to draft nonsense.

The first rule is to write something every day - but not care too much what you write. Be lazy. Drop in the first expression that comes to mind. Tired, formulaic words? Welcome them!

If you stop at every line, chew your pen and try to enhance what you’ve just written, you’ll get nowhere. Most of your fussy rewrites, at this stage, will be wasted anyway. Probably, you’ll edit them out later.

It’s simple and painless to work on a bad draft. The story’s already written (you’ll tell yourself). ‘I just have to fix it!’ That’s more fun than agonising over an empty page.

If you need another reason to write sloppily - at draft stage - note that bad writing also does away with writer’s block. Clinical depression apart, writer’s block is usually just a pointless quest to get stuff right the first time.

If you plan to write rubbish, you can’t help succeeding.

Step 2. Spend a lot of time with your tv.

Love television soaps? Now’s the time to make them work for you. Watch a popular drama series and make notes. Check the body language of the characters. How do the actors portray emotions - and how do the other characters respond?

Imagine somebody is telling a lie. What are their eyes doing? Their fingers? Is their voice calm or broken? Do the other characters catch them lying? If so, how do they behave?

Notice the scene shifts too. Few scenes today last for more than a few minutes. How does the play hold your interest when it shifts between scenes - or is interrupted by commercials? Probably, each scene ends on a note of uncertainty or intrigue.

Make a note of each scene hanger. Each could be a template you might use in a story yourself, to tie together the plot breaks.

Step 3. Be a discreet ‘fly on the wall’.

Overhear conversations in public places. (This is a great excuse to hang out in bars.)

Listen hard, though unobtrusively, and you’ll know what folk really do when they converse. Pay special care to odd phrases, jargon, twists of speech. All could add colour to your story. Compile a file of ‘real dialogue’ snatches to draw on later.

Did you notice how people do not speak the way they do in novels - or on the stage? Nobody delivers a perfectly formed sentence then waits until the other person does the same. Everything is a buzz. Half-formed sentences collide with others. It’s a miracle that communication ever takes place...

Convey something of that realism in the stories you write and they’ll become instantly more plausible.

Step 4. Do little ‘meditations’ every hour.

All pro writers carry a notebook, of course. But use it this way. Make a habit of stopping wherever you are, at random. Take a real hard look at the scene around you.

Are you in an office? Cafe? Street? Are you gazing at a mundane shop window or notice board? Is it dull, dull, dull? That’s great!

Imagine it’s the first time you’ve seen such a thing. How would you describe it, using every one of the five senses - so that your description glows with sensuality? Write down that moment of perception in one short sentence.

This is not the time for sloppy words. Choose exactly the right ones. Compose a prose poem. Keep it short - and keep it safe. You may be able to use it in a story later. If not, no matter. You’re training yourself to observe.

That little drill is tough. We’re so used to taking our surroundings for granted. But once it becomes a habit, you’ll never again be able to write a dull description.

Step 5. Accept that your story will go through several redrafts.

Irving Wallace had to throw away three whole drafts of his lengthy novel The Prize before he thought it good enough to write ‘finis’, And after it was published, to great acclaim, he wanted to write it all over again.

It’s a sad reality that even a ‘perfect’ story is full of flaws. You’ll never catch them all but most stories need a dozen rewrites just to be publishable.

Put your drafts aside for a month. You’ll be astonished at how downright bad they’ve become in that time.

Now you can rewrite them. Of course, the process never ends. But as Picasso once said of a painting: it’s never finished, just abandoned.

To be sure, commercial story writers can’t afford to procrastinate forever. They have to pay the bills. But long experience has taught them to get their work at least 70% right by the third re-write. That’s good enough. They also know that publishers hate work that’s 100% perfect. It annoys their copy editors...

True, the formula above is simplistic. But it works. Develop those five habits of successful writers and, if you have even the smallest amount of talent, your skills as a writer will develop fast - and your stories will sell.

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at:

Dr John Yeoman has 42 years experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight books of humour, some of them intended to be humorous.

Take these easy five steps to think like a professional author. Your stories will glow with fresh reader appeal, impress editors and agents, and succeed in the commercial market.

Thoughts? Any of these tips resonate with you?



  1. A special thanks to Dr. John for his enlightening, engaging guest post.

  2. Jen,

    Thank you for hosting Dr. John. These tips resonated with me. I was already gleaning ideas from T.V. and, well, I'm a bit of a people-watcher so I was already doing the fly on a wall thing. However, I love his tip about doing "meditations" every hour. It's true that details come alive when we act as if we're seeing something for the first time. I think of it as examining an everyday setting as if through the eyes of a child.

    I appreciate, as well, the practical advice that all stories go through rewrites. (Or at least the good ones do!)

    Thanks for these smart, easy tips toward greater writing success!

    Be well...

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksJune 26, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      Thanks, Janette. Always a pleasure to hear from you...no matter how infrequent. LOL

  3. Oh my yes, these all resonate with me. My mind is already going with ideas for this and that, and for the WIP. I particularly like Step 1. Too often I want to get it right the first time, knowing full well that's not the way it happens. I like the idea of giving yourself permission to write sloppily; it takes the pressure off.

    Thank you, Dr. Yeoman, for sharing this. Thanks as well to you, Jen, for hosting.

  4. Jennifer Brown BanksJune 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM


    Good feedback here. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks, Karen and Janette. Yes, part of the secret is to give ourselves 'space'. Don't be afraid to be bad, the first time round! (Nobody else will ever see it.) It's the lust to be perfect, first time, that creates writers' block!

    Please, everyone, keep adding your comments. I love to read them and I promise to respond.

  6. Great post! I love the tip to just stop and pay attention at random points.

  7. Jennifer Brown BanksJune 27, 2012 at 5:48 AM


    ...A blast from the past! :-) How have you been?
    Thanks so much for stopping by and weighing in.
    Hope all is well.

  8. Dr. John's post very enlightening--Great tips!

  9. Really good tips. I love it when someone gives unconventional advice. These really allow the writer to focus on their creativity, not mirror someone else's.

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksJune 27, 2012 at 10:53 AM


      How lovely for you to drop by. :-) Many artists "dance to a different drummer," so I'm not surprised that you would champion the "unconventional". LOL

      Much appreciation for your time and thoughts.

  10. Mmmm, yes I like step nr. 1,
    Just writing in draft mode, because that is something that I experience as somewhat enjoyable. Also step nr. 2 is something that I find interesting, I also actually once 'Back Wards' wrote a tv Sitcom episiode into a Script format just as a practice, (Btw. I also done a Scriptwriting Course) I also actually wrote a Short Story about using tv as a tool to help writing in a Short Story titled:

    'The Short Story Factory'

    You can find it on a special page on my blog with Short Stories in developement. The idea behind it was to get Readers Feedback that I could use as input for possible future redrafts. Only since I didn't get any readers feedback on them yet, might be an indication that my Short Story writing just isn't interesting enough to actually attrackt any readers. Lately I also haven't really been that inclined to write any new ones. Maybe it will come again or possibly it just isn't really my thing,
    I don't know.

  11. Jennifer Brown BanksJune 28, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    Thanks, H.P.,

    Give it some time. Things could turn around. Thanks so much for adding to the discussion.

  12. These are some of the most practical and refreshing tips I have read in a long while. Thanks for sharing them, Dr. Yeoman; and thanks Jennifer, for hosting Dr. Yeoman. I loved "give yourself permission to draft nonsense", and being the "fly on the wall". I often overhear some very funny and interesting conversations that would definitely make for great dialogue.

    1. Yasmin,

      So happy to hear this! I appreciate the feedback.

  13. In her book "Bird by Bird," Anne LaMott had a neat suggestion to keep from getting overwhelmed by the complexity of writing a whole book. I think she called it her "One inch window," and this is my take on it. If you're stuck, try describing one aspect of a character or a place, such as her hair, or just the chair where she sits. Or perhaps record the conversation she has with her mom.

    I bet another good way to do this would be to combine it with your third suggestion about listening to others conversations, (I would add people watching also) and try describing what you saw and heard.

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksJuly 3, 2012 at 9:07 AM


      Ah, people watching...it does have its merits. Thanks for your input. Much appreciated. :-)

  14. I had to read what a fellow writer and teacher with the last name of Yeomans had to say! His tips reminded me a great deal of tips Ernest Hemingway suggested to young writers ... except for the TV ones!

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksJuly 3, 2012 at 9:33 AM


      Welcome! Thanks for "following". You bring up an interesting comparison with Hemingway.
      I appreciate your time and feedback.

  15. some surprising tips, but well founded! i'll try anything to improve my writing! a bit of meditation is something i could use in life, too.

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksJuly 3, 2012 at 9:38 AM

      Tara, hi there,

      Sounds like you have the "write" idea--your willingness to try new things to improve your writing will take you far. Thanks so much for adding to the discussion here.

  16. Thanks, folks, for all your nice comments. I think it all comes down to: 'make life easy on yourself. Stop beating yourself around the head. Give yourself permission to be lazy, fallible, and downright bad. On occasion.'

    That's something we can all do without effort. And in the process, lo, we find we've written a story!

  17. I like the idea of random writing, just writing stuff "just because." I love writing and sometimes I don't want to add that period or comma; I just want to "do me." These random lines tend to turn into great content at a later date.