Showing posts from 2020

Write Better Short Stories – Part 3

What do you need to include in your short story to ensure that it’s well-written and is a great read? Apart from a strong storyline, solid characters, established POV, a central theme, a setting and an idea of beginning, middle and end, the rest of the ‘meat’ of your story should concentrate on motivation, conflict, emotion, pace and that fine balance of narrative dialogue and description. Even in short stories, your main character needs motivation, so make sure your reader is aware of the reason your main character is doing what he’s doing, and acts and reacts to events and other characters. What problem must he overcome, what is his ultimate goal? Motivation drives your character. If there’s nothing within the story that motivates him, there is no story. You may not think that emotion and conflict are that important to a short story, given that there are fewer words in which to tell the story, but that’s not the case.   Even short stories need a certain amount of conflict to

Write Better Short Stories – Part 2

As part of the planning stage, in addition to the storyline, characters, point of view, central theme and where the action takes place, it’s worth outlining a beginning, middle and an end. You may not think this is necessary with a short story, but it can help keep you motivated during writing because sometimes things can slow to a halt, ideas dry up or you’re not sure which direction the story should go, so a rough outline helps to keep you on the right path and provides a framework around which the story can form. The Beginning Unlike novels, short stories must convey a lot of information in fewer words, so there isn’t much room to give the reader backstory or lots of background information, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include it – it just means you need to be more efficient in with your words. The beginning should start at an important or interesting moment in your protagonist’s life, or at a crisis point. There’s no room for half a page of explanation. Get right to the

Write Better Short Stories – Part 1

Short stories require writers to be economical – there’s a limited amount of words to work with, since most of the elements you find in a novel are condensed into a short story format, but that doesn’t mean the quality and depth of the story should suffer because of it. The key to a good short story is not what it’s about, but how it’s written. Get the structure right and the story will work. The best way to write better short stories is to start with a bit of planning. Lots of writers don’t plan, and prefer to ‘wing’ it, but the result is not always a well-crafted piece of fiction.   A story plan doesn’t have to be detailed. It can be a few paragraphs of ideas or scenarios, or a brief outline and some characters. It just needs to be enough to help you write your story, so you’ll want to include the following as you plan: Storyline Characters POV A central theme Setting the scene Beginning, middle and end Firstly, know what your story is about. Short stories don’

Give Your Protagonist More than Just Words – Part 2

Part 1 looked at the how your character’s inner thoughts (or inner dialogue) can help with characterisation, and ways that it can deepen the narrative, but in addition to that, writers also use visual prompts – things like gestures and body language - to give their protagonist more than just words. A lot our communication is nonverbal – we gesticulate, we move our bodies, and our facial expressions show sentiment, mood or emotion. We easily pick up on those subtle movements and we interpret them, or “read” that person. In fiction, your characters are no different. Writers can show a lot about a character without him or her having to say a word. Body language covers a large area – everything from gestures, posture, ticks, facial movements, and other movement not associated with gestures. But gestures are the one thing we all do and understand – it helps us express ourselves and reinforces what we say. For instance, someone might show open palms as they talk, which is often symboli

Give Your Protagonist More than Just Words – Part 1

The depth of characterisation comes from how well your write your characters. Their personality, their flaws and their unique characteristics, coupled with how they behave, how they act and react to other people and situations, and importantly, what they say, provides more for characterisation than just the words they speak. Characterisation isn’t just about what your character says or how they say it. While dialogue is important, it’s also important to give them more than just words. As writers, you can give them more, and to do that we give our characters inner dialogue, or inner thoughts. Inner dialogue refers to the internal thoughts of your character. It’s his or her deep thoughts and feelings, which the reader is privy. This provides the reader with insight into the character which can’t be gleaned by actions alone – because often what the character really feels on the inside is very different to what they do or say on the outside, seen by everyone else. So in a way, inner dialog

Putting the Horror into Horror Stories – Part 2

When we think about horror, we immediately think of visceral, blood and guts stories, but horror is much more than that – the best horror stories are about our fears, perceptions and the unknown - the things we don’t see or understand. All you need is the fears of your reader’s imagination.   No horror should be without some foreshadowing. It’s another way to add atmosphere and tone to the story, as well as added tension. Writers use all manner of things to foreshadow – the weather, an animal, a dream, a sound, circling birds…as long as it isn’t out of place within the story, and the reader can see it, so they will know that the birds circling the trees might signify something, or the coal coloured clouds in the distance represent a dreadful, suppressive mood that belies something terrible is about to happen.   The right pacing is essential. It can create dread, tension and provoke fear. To do that, use longer descriptions that deliberately linger on certain sensory details –

Putting the Horror into Horror Stories – Part 1

So what makes horror stories so...horrifying?   Writing a good horror story is all about tapping into the reader’s fears. Everybody is afraid of something, whether it’s the dark, spiders, thunder and lightning, snakes, even death...there is always something that terrifies people, and the best horror stories exploit these irrational fears (or phobias). Most of our fears come from childhood – an incident that we remember, such as seeing a spider, or behaviours and fears picked up from the adults around us. Often their fears become our fears. Additionally, there are instinctual and primitive fears – such as being afraid of large predatory animals like sharks or bears.   On the other side of the coin there is the fear caused by imagination; the monsters we create for ourselves, such as vampires, demons, bogeymen and creatures under the bed. But whether they’re primitive fears or made up ones, they all have something in common – they are all illogical – such fears make people be

Enhance Tension, Conflict and Drama Using Your Characters

Characters don’t just help tell the story – they also add different perspectives and dimensions to situations and incidents, and the narrative. Not only that, but most importantly, they help to move the story forward. The prime ingredients to create drama are conflict and tension. Drama brings both action and characters to life, and we use characters to enhance conflict, tension and drama in ways simple narrative won’t. Characters can convey more than just a few lines of dialogue. They can lift the story from the page. That’s because they are like real people – they have emotions and sensibilities and they react to things and people around them in so many ways. In other words, writers should appeal to the reader’s senses by showing their characters’ reactions and emotions to the things that go on around them. Don’t ‘tell’ or explain things – let the characters lead the reader. We tend to think of conflict and tension by way of description and narrative, but writers shouldn’t let

Avoid a Contrived Story

It’s very common for writers to orchestrate certain things that they think work for their story, whether it’s something to do with the plot or the characters or situations, but in reality what they end up doing is creating a contrived story. In writing, when something is contrived, it means that some aspects of the story have been deliberately created or forced into being, rather than happening organically or naturally because of the story. The result is that some plots and situations stretch plausibility – something the readers always notice. It’s something all writers do at some point, but not all of them break this habit. So why do writers artificially engineer their stories in such a way to leave the reader thinking, “As if!”? Every story needs to be plausible. The plot, the characters and the events all need to believable. Those key events need to happen functionally and organically because of the story arc, not because the writer has run out of ideas, or he hasn’t planned the s

Creating Great Secondary Characters

Almost every novel has a range of supporting characters to help bring the story to life and who revolve around the main character. These secondary characters aren’t just there to make up the numbers. They’re necessary if you want to tell a complete story. Writers use them to create different viewpoints, reveal important details and involve them within subplots, they support the protagonist and they help the story arc to evolve. They also help the story move forward. The main character needs them, whether they are friends, family, strangers or enemies. They are there to help, motivate, challenge or even create conflict with your protagonist. Ultimately, they all have the same purpose - to help get the story from the beginning to the end. They bring added dimension and depth to your story. So who are secondary characters? Secondary characters usually have some dialogue and interaction with the main character. They may have their own scenes, or be part of a subplot. Characters that s

Give Your Novel Lasting Imagery

Creating visceral imagery is always a subject worth revisiting as a reminder to writers for their stories to leave a lasting impression with their readers and open the door to reading more of their work. Novels are meant to leave an impression. The imagery you use is important not just for the story, but for the reader, because that’s the kind of thing that makes the story memorable – it remains in their subconscious. Strong imagery conveys a sense of the story, the characters and the entire scene. This is drawn from vivid description, where we create the kind of lasting images that will stay with the reader. The strength of your description is what creates lasting imagery and emphasises the story and characters; the very thing that lifts them from the page. Some writers are visceral with the way they show imagery, some writers like their narrative raw, while others are subtle in the way the engage words, emotions and senses to bring the reader into a deeper level of the story.

Putting the Thrill in Thriller Stories – Part 3

Along with the obvious things like great characters, a tight plot, carefully woven sub plots, conflicts, emotion and motivations, there are a few more aspects to help put the thrill into thriller stories. Whether readers realise it or not, all stories are about the human psyche. It’s not just a story. It’s about why people do what they do, because human behaviour lies at the heart of every story and the best thrillers capitalise on this. They bring reasoning into the story – they show us why characters behave in a certain way, they show us the motivations and emotions behind their actions, and by doing this they make their characters intriguing, interesting, clever, sinister...all the things great characters should be. Readers want to understand how a character’s mind works. It’s simple psychology. Because to understand the characters is to empathise with and care for them, and that pulls them right into the story. And with thrillers, there are all manner of human traits and b

Putting the Thrill in Thriller Stories – Part 2

To make a thriller work, it requires a lot of aspects to come together, like a tight plot, complex characters that will bring different layers to the narrative, the escalation of danger and higher stakes and dilemmas and problematic situations that create drama and tension. That’s why readers love that heightened sense of realism and the dark undercurrents that exist below the surface of the story. They love the twists and turns. They love to get involved with the story and the characters. Ultimately, they want the protagonist to win. It can’t be said enough that conflict is essential to every story. It’s the fuel that drives characters and situations. In any thriller story, conflict should escalate around pivotal situations and events, and if you’ve planned the story and plotted correctly, the conflict should happen naturally . Don’t manufacture conflict just for the sake of it. It has to evolve because of the plot and because of how the characters act and react to events and e

Putting the Thrill in Thriller Stories – Part 1

No novel is simple to write, but some genres, like crime and thrillers, have a different level of complexity that requires a lot of thought and planning to tell a complicated story, while engaging the reader and keeping them guessing what will happen next. When we think about thrillers, we imagine a fast-paced novel full of action, danger, suspense, drama, lots of conflict and all manner of plot twists. They tend to rely heavily on plot, and most of the action is driven by escalating events, right up until the final page. Thrillers are meant to thrill because, right from the start, every scene should push the story forward, it should be paced properly, the characters should be larger than life and stand out, and the stakes should be high. But before you put any thrill into a thriller, you first need a tight, well thought out plot. This is the skeletal structure that will support everything that happens within the story, and because thrillers are generally more complex in natu