I’m an amateur. I really am. I’ve never been published, and I don’t even write that often. But I’m learning. Over the course of the last year and a half, I’ve learned a lot; I somehow managed to learn a decent bit in my fiction writing class in fall 2011. While he’s the sweetest man you’ll ever meet, the professor teaches the class in a series of lectures that start out: “that reminds me of a story.” None of these stories has any relevance, or at least none that I’ve found. Besides telling the same stories, he gives us examples of famous works, and we read them. We also write our own stories and critique each other anonymously (thankfully). Between the badly written student works (mine too) and the works of the masters, I discovered some things.
1.) Show, don’t tell– the most important lesson I learned, or at least the one that kept popping up and has helped my writing (if I can focus on it) is what “showing” looks like. Let’s see if you can pick out “showing” versus “telling”:
“She was sad” vs “Tears filled her eyes”
“He was a strange man” vs “He loved bacon and olive sandwiches, wore his trousers on his arms, and walked with his feet splayed outward.”
If you do tell, be sure to follow it up with some examples that show: “She went to the store and bought some groceries: milk, eggs, soft-wash detergent, and a baseball bat.”
It took me awhile to figure this out. Dr. H would say “show, don’t tell” but never explained what he meant. But figuring things out on your own is often the best way to learn, in my experience.
2.) Do develop your characters-From looking at various authors, I find that the more developed your characters are, the more rich the overall story and world is that you’ve made. Even if you don’t tell the audience everything about each character, the depth behind a given character will come out just because you know those things. I need to work on this. There are a lot of ways to get to know your characters:
Interview them-ask them questions; they might surprise you with their answers.
Write out likes and dislikes, hobbies, family members, secrets, eccentricities, friends, education, lifestyle, history, etc.
Just start writing. Often the character takes over, which can be good and bad. You can always edit it later if the character doesn’t seem to be working.
Just a few ideas.
3.) Do develop plot-Different styles and different writers will focus more on plot or more on characters, but it’s important to balance both to effectively hold the audience. Some stories are more character-driven and some are more plot-driven. It depends. But unless you’re Joss Whedon and are amazing with character-development, it’s not easy to get away with a sloppy, clichéd, or non-existent plot.
4.) Don’t base the entire story on a moral-or at least don’t throw it in the reader’s face. If the moral or point is too obvious, it won’t go over well with the reader. A good story asks a question and challenges the reader to explore the question. Show the question/moral; don’t tell.
I could push for a number 5, but I don’t feel like it. I can spend the extra five minutes from cutting it at four actually practicing what I preach.
Hey, you know what’s another good idea? Subscribe to me! Keeps me accountable and keeps you entertained…I hope.