“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Some are gifted, natural born writers. However, there are many more who desire to write, but have no natural understanding or talent to do so. This post is aimed at helping those people.
I had a desire to write at a very young age, and it seems from the beginning that I held a certain knowledge and understanding of how to form from nothing, a story start to finish. I still feel somewhat gifted in my ability to do so, but I know that much of my talent was forged and developed over time, as opposed to something that had been bestowed upon me. Even so, talent must be sharpened, whether it is gifted or gained.
“At times, talent is gifted! But mostly, it comes with good practice.”
― Somya Kedia
In this post, I am going to discuss four hurtles that one must overcome in order to write a good story or novel. While some may argue the order in which I have placed these hurtles, I think most would validate the importance of conquering each one.
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
“Whether a character in your novel is full of choler, bile, phlegm, blood or plain old buffalo chips, the fire of life is in there, too, as long as that character lives.”
—James Alexander Thom
My story ideas always seem to start with a character, or characters, rather than an idea for a story. Once I have a few good characters to place in situations of conflict, I find it easier to bring forth a story. For me, knowing my characters and how they would react in certain situations makes it easier to put them in the mixer and make them interact.
Here is an excerpt from, What Horror Awaits, a previous post to my blog.
You can have the most outrages story line and plot ever conceived, but if your readers can’t relate to, or connect with your characters, you will lose them before they get there. This doesn’t mean that you have to necessarily create likable characters, just interesting and original characters. Even if it’s some scrounge-ball that everyone hates, if he’s hated enough, people will read on to find out what gruesome fate befalls him.
Here is an example of how I out line my characters. It’s good to do this because as time goes by, you can add to it until each one takes on a personality of his or her own.
Name: Dirt Bag
Description: Scraggly looking, thin man, late 20’s. lives in the Death Camp trailer park. Kidnaps and tortures his neighbors. Tweaker.
Personality: Social, for a tweaker. Likable through deceit (he’s not who he seems). Good at playing innocent.
Notes: A non-suspect in the string of trailer park murders. Fools investigators with his half-witted charm.
Now that I have Dirt Bag, I just need another character or two in order to interact with him and I can write my first scene, or chapter. And this brings us to the next hurtle.
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
– William Faulkner
By beginning, I don’t necessarily mean starting at the beginning. I’m talking about beginning to write. After all, if nothing gets written down, then there’s nothing to work with. There’s nothing to build upon or even edit.
Years ago I had a story in my head, despite my efforts to write it down it was never given life, because I didn’t know where to start. Today however, I take a different approach. Does it matter if you start writing a story at the beginning? My answer is no. If you have a scene waiting in your head, then set it free to the page. It doesn’t matter if it ends up being the beginning of your book, the ending, or somewhere in between. A story can always be connected from multiple scenes. Once you have something on paper, a scene, an episode, chapter, or even a simple thought, it will lead to another, or possibly even open a door for your story to take a direction and a plot to develop.
In short, writing something is better than writing nothing. I think every writer would agree on that.
So, where to begin? As simple as it may sound, begin by writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing chapter one or not, as long as you’re writing.
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block, WD
Hurtle 3—The plot
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
Years ago I was under the impression that, in order to write a good story I needed to have it all figured out in my head first. If I couldn’t conceive a good plot in the depths of my mind, I wouldn’t write.
Thankfully, I figured out sooner than later, that the best way to develop a good plot is to write. We just leaped that hurtle, so this one should be easy.
With an array of characters to utilize and interact with each other, a plot will automatically develop as you continue writing. I have sat down to write with no idea where it was leading, then, by introducing another character, or adding another element, things would suddenly take off in a direction I didn’t see coming. Leading into a plot, or thickening the plot already conceived. It’s amazing how this happens, and when it does, it brings a certain sense of excitement and delivers a vibrant breath of enthusiasm to the page.
The best way I have found to establish a good plot, is to continually add elements and characters until they all end up in a big mess, then I figure out how to get them out of it.
If you find yourself stuck where you are in your story, the best thing to do is to start fresh with another piece. Maybe take those same characters and put them in a different situation all together. Or introduce another character into the existing scene. Doing this will certainly spark new ideas and bring about more possibilities for your story.
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
—E. L. Doctorow
A lot of books miss the mark when it comes to the ending. Even some books from very renowned authors. It’s almost as if they took the time to develop a great story with an awesome plot and fascinating characters, but gave up before it was over. Leaving the reader head scratching and disappointed.
I know first-hand that bringing a story to a great ending can be a little tough. For me, it doesn’t seam to happen as naturally as the story itself, possibly because I never feel ready to end a story, but more likely because I’m never quite sure where to leave it. But I do know this, it’s not good to leave the reader guessing.
Here are four, of the many possibilities that I use for ending a story.
- Everybody dies
- A sudden twist
- Summing up
- Let on to a sequel
The everybody dies ending. I really like this concept, but I have yet to pull it off. For one, there goes all your characters, and the option of bringing them back for another tale is diminished. I mean, well…I guess resurrecting the dead is possible in fiction. If done right, this ending could deliver a nice shock to the reader. After all, they have read the book and now feel as if they know the characters, and they care for them. Killing everybody off in the end, would make for a killer ending, at minimal.
A sudden twist. I like these endings, there’s nothing better than a shocking twist at or near the end of a story.
It looked certain that Brian and Heather would ride off into the sunset, but it turns out that Heather had been married the entire time and her husband shoes up, and kills Brian…and Heather. Wait, that’s the everybody dies ending—never mind.
Sum up the story. If your story has been somewhat shrouded in mystery, it’s not always a good idea to leave that mystery hanging at the end, unless there is a sequel coming. There are multiple options on how to sum things up, or address unanswered questions. You can simply bring everything to a completed end, leaving no stone unturned. This may require some forethought or preluding earlier in the story. Summing up a story can also be done by narrating (through character or narrator) what became of such and such or so and so. Leaving the reader without any questions is a solid way to end a book.
Let on to a sequel. Most readers love sequels; the characters they came to know so well in the first novel are back. If the first book was good, there is an automatic enthusiasm to start the next story. Some of the most popular books out there are sequels, or even better, a series. Not sure where to end your story? With a sequel coming it’s not the worst thing if you have a lose end or two at the end of your book. The reader will be anticipating the next book as soon as they finish the first.
The craft of writing is one that must be worked at, it must be applied and practiced in order to excel in it. There are no exceptions to this.
Do you have a story and you’re not sure where to begin? Begin by writing, you can’t go wrong by putting words on the page. At any cost, if you want your story to be written and to take on life, you must write. As simple as it sounds, it’s surprising how many people fail to grasp that fact. Even I missed it in my younger years.
“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
– Ray Bradbury