To Write the Story is Not Enough

Everyone has a story, so how are you going to make yours stand out? I think about this often in my writing, and the stories that I apply more than just story to, benefit tremendously. I jotted down ten ideas to add more *bling* to your pieces. If you have any of your own that you would like to share, leave it in the comment section and I will add it to the list with your name.

1. TITLE: Do not underestimate the power of a good, imaginative title. This is the very first thing your reader will read. Make it a good and/or clever, which for the life of me, I still struggle to do.

2. THE FIRST SENTENCE: This is the second thing your readers are going to read, besides the byline, and so it also has to be damn good. Hook them with the first sentence.

3. THEME: This brings cohesion and completeness to your story. The fuzzier it is, the less impact your story will have on the reader. Think sacrifice, justice, perseverance, truth, betrayal, etc, and slip it into your character, setting, conflict, or objects that act as symbols.

4. THE ENDING: It is the roof of your entire story. What do you want to leave your reader with when they are finished reading your story? How can you make the usual unusual? It will be the lasting impression of your story, so throw all your magic glitter on it.

5. KILL YOUR CLICHES: Now, with a chainsaw if you must, otherwise they will kill your story. If something sounds familiar to you or is kind of boring, axe it!

6. DIALOGUE: Keep it fresh. I almost always reword the first response I think of, because often, the first response is generally what you would hear someone say, so change it.  Keep the reader guessing on what’s going to be said next. This is also the place to create vivid characters, one of King’s biggest strengths.

7. CHARACTER NAMES: This one takes a little balance. While it is good to use names that easily identify a character when you’re not focusing on their back-story so much, these too can become cliché and/or boring. In turn, names that are too hard to pronounce or are annoying to say could irritate the reader. Choose names carefully.

8. SETTING & TIME: A good area to add bling in your story. What places/time periods are unique and uncommon? Try crossing them—a futuristic story without all the hi-tech settings. Skip the café and put your characters on a bus instead, where there will be plenty of opportunity to insert theme and conflict.

9. PACING: Structure has a big impact on your story too. Try switching up your pace to catch the readers attention. It’s your rollercoaster ride.

10. COOL: When you are at last finished with your story, put it down and forget about it. Start on the next one, or two. When you return to your story, you’ll see all kinds of areas that could use a little more flash.

Linda:
11. CONTAINER: That is, what is the container of your story? Is it one long uninterrupted story, or do you break it into scenes? A few scenes, or lots of mini-scenes? How many voices tell your story? How do you interweave them? The story you are telling, the character, the environment, will all dictate how you structure — and hence present — your story.

12. TENSION: Which is more than just leaving a scene or chapter on edge. Tension can be built into your dialogue, your word choice, and your white space (what is left out)

John :
13. TICK BOXES: sensible general boxes to tick in work.

Laurita: 
14. BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS: Good, strong, believable and fun characters are a must. Nothing kills a story faster than characters no one cares about.

Michael:
15. WORD SEARCH: Do a word search for every “that” and “had” you can lose 99% of these throw away words. Also look at every verb and ask: is there a better, more action packed word I can use.

16. ASK THE HARD QUESTION: “Would I want to read this?” After you’ve done allthe work you mention above – ask that question. If the answer is “no”- keep goin’.

Deborah:
17. STARTING WITH A QUESTION: Many good short stories open with a mystery. Either how is this character going to solve this problem, or why is this odd character doing what he/she/it is doing. In the development of the story an answer to the story is revealed.

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20 thoughts on “To Write the Story is Not Enough

  1. Good solid post. I like your bling list.I would actually add 2 more. 11)Container. that is, what is the container of your story? Is it one long uninterrupted story, or do you break it into scenes? A few scenes, or lots of mini-scenes? How many voices tell your story? How do you interweave them? The story you are telling, the character, the environment, wil lall dictate how you structure — and hence present — your story.12) Tension, which is more than just leaving a scene or chapter on edge. Tension can be built into your dialogue, your word choice, and your white space (what is left out). These are the two things I've been thinking about in my stories. Thanks for sharing yours! Peace…what you are trying to

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  2. Some great advice. I particularly like one and two, both of which are the bane of my existence.Good, strong, believable and fun characters are a must. Nothing kills a story faster than characters no one cares about.

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  3. do a word search for every "that" and "had" you can lose 99% of these throw away words. Also look at every verb and ask: is there a better, more action packed word I can use – nice post ec.

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  4. Great point Michael. I read once that everyone has their own special sets of words they tend to overuse. If you're lucky, people will point them out to you. One of mine is "just."

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  5. Great post Erin, and all excellent things to keep an eye on.If I have any addition to this list it's this: "Would I want to read this?" After you've done all the work you mention above – ask that question. If the answer is "no" – keep goin'.

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  6. Hi, Erin. This is an interesting post, because with short stories, I like to be instinctive. The story flows with me, goodness knows where it all comes from. But on the equal and opposite hand, I'm always thinking about what makes a good short story. I have an emergent theory. Probably not worthy of an addition. Many good short stories open with a mystery. Either how is this character going to solve this problem, or why is this odd character doing what he/she/it is doing. In the development of the story an answer to the story is revealed.

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  7. It's an excellent addition. This is the cornerstone of every good story. It's the question that hooks the reader, prompting them to want to find the answer. Absolutely. The development I think is where it's easy to lose the reader, and probably the hardest part to craft. Thanks, Deborah!

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  8. Good list.
    As for starting with a question – I like the idea of questionable situations – or clear challenges for the main character. But I’m not so keen on explicit questions at the very beginning. I prefer a statement – that shows the writer knows where he or she is going (even if I don’t).

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