Story Writing

 

Story Writing for Beginners

What does it take to become a successful writer?

They often say that writers are born, not made. While this is true to a large extent, you can go a long way to becoming a good writer with a good imagination.

One element distinguishing a good writer from everybody else is their ability to find a good plot. A good plot is essential. Good plots alone, however, do not make a story. The plot is one aspect. That plot must be set against a background. It must move forward; to do that, there must be a world with characters in your story.

All too often, would-be writers ignore the background, yet it is an essential part of a fictional story. Take Harry Potter, for instance. To understand and enjoy him, you must form a clear picture of his world in your mind. You want him because the author can paint the picture so clearly that you can dive into that world by reading the words.

If the reader can lose him or herself in your world, you are winning. You may have what it takes to become a successful fiction writer. Even more important is that you must lose yourself as a writer in your imaginary world. If you do not see what you write, it will sound artificial. Your characters must be accurate to you, and so must the world they live in. For example, When you write about the rescue efforts after an earthquake, you must be able to see the sweat on the rescue workers’ faces and hear the sounds as they remove the concrete and steel of the collapsed building. You must be able to feel the fear and desperation of the people trapped in the building.

Only then do you draw people into your story? A story is a unit. It is more than the characters, and it is more than the action. It is about the complete picture. People can believe that an elephant can fly standing on a needle. You need someone to paint that picture so they can see it. That is what is so great about fiction writing. The reader can escape to another world, and that word comes from the mind and the writer’s imagination.

If you are determined to attempt your first novel, which will undoubtedly be a prize winner, do not spend all your time working out a plot. Spare some thought, a lot of thought actually, for the background.

 

How to write a book! Checking your work for fundamental problems

It can be challenging to identify areas of weakness in our work. It is essential to assess our work professionally by an outsider unaffected by what we were trying to do and can see what we have achieved instead.

But for those of us on early drafts, it can be helpful to know some of the things assessors consider when reading manuscripts. See how many of these you can answer with a ‘yes.’ An occasional ‘no’ is acceptable. Just ensure you have reasons for your deviations and have not weakened your work with too many.

 

Proofreading

Check your manuscript for typing, spelling, grammatical errors, and maybe even re-editing specific paragraphs that are not fluent or interesting. The most straightforward errors to tackle are your typing and spelling mistakes. The built-in spell checker can quickly identify in MS Word; if you need to look up words fast while editing, you visit Dictionary.com, searching for the meaning of the word you want immediately.

There’s also the Thesaurus function that you can use to find an alternate word with the same meaning on the same site. It will help if you proofread your manuscript as often as possible. Get someone else to do it too! When you have been so involved with your work, picking up mistakes that others can see easily is tough.

“You see what you want to see” is very accurate. If you can’t find anyone, maybe you should consider getting a professional to do the job. Our experience with writers is that errors are still found at the last minute before printing, even though they have edited and proofread their books many times.

If you need professional help, we can refer you to freelancers.

 

Story Writing checklist

MAIN CHARACTER(S)

  1. Is it clear who the story is about?
  2. Is a major character someone the reader, can identify with well?
  3. Does the major character have both outstanding character traits and flaws, physical and mental?
  4. Is the major character introduced to the reader very early?
  5. Does the major character show growth in understanding as the Tale progresses?
  6. Is the main character active in solving the problems encountered?
  7. Does the main character’s weakness contribute to the problems encountered and solved?
  8. Does the main character have moments of despair, hopelessness, and confidence?

MINOR CHARACTER(S)

1. Are there a limited number of essential minor characters, all different?

2. Are the minor characters as completely thought out as the protagonist?

3. Does each minor character have multiple uses in developing the plot and ideas?

4. Are the antagonists more than stereotyped figures of evil?

5. Do the ‘good’ characters avoid stereotypes?

6. Are gender stereotypes either used deliberately or avoided?

7. Do all minor characters come across as individual people?

8. Does each minor character participate in events in the main plot and minor plot elements?

PLOTTING

1. Does the main activities begin in the first few paragraphs?

2. Does each chapter contain a significant contribution to the main plotline?

3. Does the solution to each problem in the main storyline lead to a bigger problem?

4. Are there sub-plots?

5. Do the sub-plots contribute significantly to the main plot’s themes or ideas (e.g. by reinforcing them or offering alternative points of view)?

6. Do the subplots connect with and interact with the main plot at various times?

7. Are the subplots resolved before the main plot climaxes and is resolved?

8. Is there a twist or surprise at the end?

9. Is the back story avoided in the first few chapters?

SETTINGS

1. Are the setting pictured (if imaginary) and well-known (if accurate)?

2. Do the settings offer precise mood, tone, and action changes?

3. Can the settings complement or contrast the prevailing mood and action?

4. Do the settings have universal attributes (understood by any reader)?

5. Do images and symbolic objects hold their significance across cultural lines? (e.g., Are trees and rivers used archetypally or invested with personal meaning?)

6. Are the settings appropriately specific or generic? (e.g. the W. A.

7. Museum’s Aboriginal artifacts display vs. a museum)

8. If the work is set in a time or place other than the author’s, is that time or place thoroughly researched and made familiar?

9. Have anachronisms been avoided? (e.g. King Arthur smoking a pipe; Victorian women holding 20th-century views on gender)?

STYLE

1. Does the first sentence capture the tone and topic of the story?

2. Are the characters shown in action rather than being passively described?

3. Does the first paragraph introduce the significant threads of the story?

4. Do the middle chapters maintain pace and forward movement?

5. Are conversations representative of honest conversations: elliptical, brief, conversational?

6. Do action sequences have short sentences with an emphasis on verbs?

7. Do descriptions focus on specific things rather than general ones? (e.g. ‘black’ rather than ‘scary’)

8. Are verbs expressed in active forms (e.g.’ she knitted’ rather than ‘she was knitting)?

9. Is the author’s viewpoint limited to a few, one, or no characters’ thoughts and feelings?

10. Does the author remain invisible or take an active part in telling the story?

TECHNICAL POINTS

1. If this is the first novel, is it under 80,000 words long?

2. Is it double-spaced in Times New Roman 12 point or the equivalent?

3. Does it have wide margins on every side?

4. Are the first lines of every paragraph, except those that open chapters, indented?

5. Do paragraphs follow each other without spaces between them?

6. Are the pages numbered consecutively, along with the author’s surname and book title, in 10-point?

7. Are common spelling and punctuation, and grammatical errors checked? (e.g. its/it’s; their/there/they’re; to John and me; he could have gone; laid/lay)

8. Are characters’ names and nicknames consistent and clear? (e.g. surnames don’t all begin with S, aren’t all two syllables long, accurately reflect ethnicity; minor characters don’t have three different names they are known by)

9. Are sentences grammatical?

10. Is punctuation standard?

11. Is the spelling standard usage?

Ghost Writer

A ghostwriter is a term used for a professional who can write your book for you. Ghostwriter John Harman is a professional writer who has written for a living all his working life. Apart from his novels and many non-fiction works, John has ghostwritten over a dozen published books. JohnHarman.com is his website.

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