Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 2: Writing a Story
I started writing because I thought… No! I knew that I could write a better book than a science fiction book I read in the summer of 1979.
My wife nodded encouragingly.
I signed up for and completed a correspondence course on writing. They would send a prompt. I would do the required reading from their materials, complete the prompt, and send it back. My editor would read and critique the piece—writing his comments on the manuscript. Then he would send that piece back with the next prompt.
I learned many important lessons. Probably the most important was to write short sentences whenever possible. I think I’m still pretty good at that.
I wrote at least 40 short stories—mostly science fiction, but some humorous pieces and a few detective stories—between 1980 and when I retired from high school teaching in 2012. One of those stories, Fair Game won two different competitions. Many, many of my students read my stories and enjoyed them. No. I did not reward those who read or punish those to did not read the stories.
I submitted three stories to publishers. All were rejected. A reviewer hammered one. The publisher apologized for the tone of that review in a separate note, saying the review was too harsh—but the story was still rejected.
I continue to write. I have learned three key lessons about story writing that make writing different than telling.
First. You need to tell the reader what your characters are thinking. You should know what each of your characters is thinking when you write down what they do or say. But, if you assume your readers are content with unadorned prose, you are wrong.
Readers want to know why characters do things. They only way they can know is for the author to tell them. This is not a place to be subtle. Make the motivation clear.
Second. Describe the settings in enough detail that the reader can form a mental picture that aligns with yours. If that is not the case, many readers will either stop reading or not read any other books you’ve written because they were lost in a world they did not understand.
There is a danger here in over describing. But, if you start with an expansive description, you can easily reduce the amount of detail where your beta readers indicate the manuscript became tedious.
Third. Don’t keep secrets when you write. Giving away the twist, or O’Henry ending to your novel is not the intent. But, if you know that one of your characters knows something important to moving the plot forward or is the reason for a specific action the part of that character, don’t leave the reader wondering whether psychic powers are involved.
Two weeks from today, I’ll show you what a difference writing a story like a writer vs. telling a story in writing can make. I’ll be using a specific example from my next novel: The 5th Page.
Next blog: Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences
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