Storytelling is at the core of who we are as human beings. I’m convinced we’ve been doing it since our Neanderthal beginnings. Still, as ingrained as it may be to the human psyche, it takes a concerted effort to do it well.
There’s a difference between just relating a story, and telling an engrossing tale people will remember. It’s something every author, whether traditional or indie, needs to understand.
Sadly, many wannabes overlook some of the basic techniques.
Set the Stage
When you’re writing fiction, it’s important to set the stage. Tell your readers the place and time the story takes place. They need to know enough of the context so they can understand the story.
It was late August, 1962, when I first saw Albert Parker. After all this time I still remember the year quite distinctly. It was my second teenage summer and, like discovering I had a sexual identity, it was a part of life’s first great transition. I had been waiting months for something special to happen, something magical. Something like having Marilyn Monroe show up on my doorstep.
Show, Don’t Tell
One of the most important lessons to learn as a writer is how to show your story, instead of just telling it. Give us a visual example and make us see it and feel it.
All our senses contribute to a story and help make the experience realistic, as well as entertaining. Use that knowledge, and appeal to all of your readers’ senses.
The day started as a humid, hurt-your-lungs-on-a-deep-breath morning. A blistering sun was rising over the railroad switching yard at the far end of the street. Its red-orange glare filtered through exhausted-looking trees, while sinuous heat ribbons shimmered over motionless freight cars, their rusty shapes defined like so many slumbering beasts.
I was already sitting on the curb under a big oak tree, trying to find relief in occasional humid puffs of air. A battered gray panel truck pulled up across the street, and signaled its stop with a tortuous squeal. An angular middle-aged man slowly unwound from the driver’s seat. Garish sunlight lit the edges of his hair. It made halos of his tight, graying curls and gleamed brightly from the center of his balding crown.
Plot and Conflict
I won’t spend much time talking about plot, other than to say it’s important to construct one because it’s true, even if you want to break or bend the rules, that there should be a beginning, middle and an end to your story.
More importantly, what’s the conflict? What leads up to it? How will it be resolved? You need to make sure to keep the tension going and leave the audience wanting more with each chapter. However, readers should feel satisfied when the story ends, so don’t forget some sense of closure.
Point of View
Also consider point of view. Would the whole story, or even just a chapter, have a more emotional appeal if it was told through the eyes of a child? How would multiple points of view affect the telling of the story?
From my earliest memory all our neighbors said they were glad I wasn’t like my big brother. I never knew how to answer them when they said that. Albert was always there for me. What was wrong with that?
Use a dynamic character. This is a character that is changed by the conflict of the story. Readers love to see the reformed sinner find his way to something akin to success or redemption.
By all means, use realistic dialogue. I can’t stress this enough. Readers immediately lose focus when they hear something that sounds odd or out of place.
So, pay attention to the dialogue you write. Don’t throw readers out of the story.
Albert put his face next to mine and whispered, “You tell anyone, Paulie…anyone,” he made a cutting motion across his throat with his good hand, “you’ll wish your Momma never bothered to have you.”
“Ooh, watch me, I’m shaking.”
There were still sparks in Albert’s eyes. “Do you think I’m kidding?” For a moment, I thought the rest of my day was about to become very bad indeed.
“I swore, didn’t I?”
“Just making sure,” Albert said.
Tip 1: Read the dialogue you’ve written out loud when editing, to hear if it sounds realistic. If you stumble over it, chances are your reader will, too.
Tip 2: Learn to eavesdrop on conversations around you, to hear how people actually talk. No, you’re not trying to learn all their secrets. You do it to understand how they actually use their words to communicate.
You might be surprised to know real conversation is not at all like your English teacher told you when she had you diagramming those sentences (Sorry, Miss Kujala, but it’s true).
Always keep in mind that readers want to be moved by what they’re reading. Understand what emotions your story invokes in the audience. Then, pull on those emotions, because the stronger you make your story the more effective it will be.
Best-selling thriller writer Brad Meltzer once said that, as a writer, you’re trying to look through someone else’s eyes. I think when you do it well, the reader gets to enjoy the view, too.
The text samples above came directly from my award-winning novel, REICHOLD STREET.
My books have garnered some terrific reviews. You can see the stories I have available by using the Amazon link below.
Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.