How to Write a Story

May 13, 2008 at 4:31 am | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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I think all writers should look to their favorite authors for guidance.  If you’re wondering how to write a story, study the work of writers you enjoy reading. How do they convey mood, describe a setting or build characters?  I’ve read authors who describe a character’s wardrobe, down to the color of socks. Stephen King paints an extravagant landscape with his words; describing an eerie labyrinth or deserted towns.  He sculpts characters through their past experiences and preferences. Once you’ve identified the techniques in use,  practice applying them in your own work. 


Write short stories or flash fiction to explore different styles, perspectives or genres. The elements of plot, setting and character development still apply but you must be more disciplined in the execution.  Every word counts, so plan ahead with a plot outline.


Beginning – Start with action, a change in the status quo and a character in turmoil.  You need to grab your reader immediately.


Introduce Conflict – This is the question to be answered or problem to be solved. Without conflict there is no point in telling a story.  You need to challenge your character so they are transformed by the end of the story.


Obstacles – Your protagonist takes action to resolve his or her conflict, but it shouldn’t be too easy. Be sure to throw a few obstacles in his way to build the tension and urgency.


Confrontation – Occurs when your character meets his nemesis, the conflict head on.  


Resolution – This is when you reveal the result of the conflict. Did the character succeed or fail? 


End – Take your time to develop a solid ending. Don’t rush to close the story or leave loose ends.  If you plan ahead you’ll know exactly where you’re going and what to do when you get there.


Individual style, pace and voice set writers apart and imitation, while the greatest form of compliment, is a hallow substitute.   The most important tip for how to write a story is to be willing to be yourself.   There are only a few stories and millions of aspiring writers, the best way to distinguish yourself is by honoring your unique perspective of the world. This is all we writers offer.  


Show AND Tell

January 25, 2008 at 12:33 am | Posted in Writers Write | 4 Comments
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As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra “Show Don’t Tell.”  I’ve struggled with this for years: after all, a writer’s medium is words, their canvas a blank page and their art a story worth telling. Last year I took a creative writing class and it finally “clicked” for me.  A writer must “Show and Tell” combining descriptive language to convey emotion and develop character, as well as, action to move the story forward. 

You can not reasonably “Show” everything or the narrative will be bogged down with minutia.  You can not “Tell” everything or the narrative may be detached and read like a textbook.  Only you can decide how much is enough and where the story or characters benefit from showing or telling. The mix is where the magic happens.  I can’t give you a recipe with precise measures of showing and telling.  A great deal depends on what you’re  planning to dish up, a gory horror story ala Stephen King will probably have more showing whereas a tough talking PI will tell it like is. 

Here are a few examples that may help you find the right mix for you.

Telling Showing
He was mad. His mouth clamped shut, lips drawn in a bloodless gash.
She was a shy girl, who blushed whenever Charlie passed by.  She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.  She ducked her head so Charlie wouldn’t notice the affect he had on her.
He was out of shape. He heaved and puffed climbing a single flight of stairs.  His face was covered with white blossoms of oxygen deprived cells.
Mary was sad when her father died. Tears swelled and rolled from her eyes unchecked. She couldn’t breathe for the weight of grief sitting on her chest.  The world disappeared for a moment as she realized she was truly and forever alone.
He said quietly. He whispered.  He muttered.
The door squeaked. The sound was at once familiar and frightening; an un-oiled hinge that betrayed those who entered. Someone else was in the room with her.
She was nervous. Her fingers tapped a steady rhythm.

Do the following exercise to reinforce your habit of showing.

1.  Did you know that only 7% of communication occurs through words?  55% of the communication consists of body language and 38% is expressed through tone of voice. As a writer, you’re limited to how much you can convey, but your characters AREN’T.  Your characters are still interacting (presumably) and communication through body language and tone of voice. Let those “clues” guide your audience.   It will be more satisfying if they can discover a character for themselves.

            – How does a person look if they’re happy? 


            – How does a person look when they’re annoyed? Angry? Disappointed?


            – How does a person act when they are ashamed? Guilty? Regretful?


            – How does a person act when they are confident? Shy? Outgoing?


            – How does a dumb person look? What about a smart person?





 Ok, this is a bit of a trick question but you need to challenge your stereotypes. You may not even know you have them but they’ll show up wherever you’ve copped out on character development.  Do you recognize any of these characters in your work?

A. A Country Bumpkin – Also shows up as a good ole’ boy; a hillbilly; a hayseed or a redneck

B. The Gold Digger

C. Hooker with a heart of gold – Really anyone with a heart of gold should be avoided – bad boys included.

D.  The Workaholic – Also shows up as the Type A, anal retentive; an ambitious corporate climber; the slimy “Yes” man or the greedy Banker/CEO/Executive.

2.  What do emotions feel like in your body?  Avoid clichés, those overused phrases that don’t describe how YOU feel.  Think about a time when you really felt the emotion and remember the physiological symptoms that occurred. 

For example, if I think about anxiety, I would remember my palms were sweaty; my heart was beating so hard I could see it thumping in my chest and hear it inside my head, dun-da, dun-da, dun-da;  I felt disassociated from my body and everything was happening in slow motion….

            – What does sad feel like? 

            – What does fear feel like?

            – What does love feel like?


3.  Assume your reader doesn’t know the meaning of an adjective; how would you convey your meaning?   Try to describe the following with the underlined adjective, without inserting another adjective.

            – The pillow was fluffy.

            – She smiled sadly.

            – He greeted her warmly.




I hope this has helped you. Remember you don’t have to show everything, just enough to take your audience on a journey with you, rather then dragging them along.  


(1) Dick Mooney, Often, actions really do speak louder than words. Knoxville, TN: ACA Communicator, 2002 

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