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?
IMAGE CREDIT: SPFF