Using Deadlines To Get That Story Finished
If you happen to be feeling very motivated and enthusiastic about your story, then sitting down and writing it isn’t going to be a problem.
When you’re writing as fast as you can and all synapses are firing you really don’t need any particular structure or technique to your process. You write until you can’t write anymore, and then you get up the next day and do it again.
In a perfect world with plenty of free time and no distractions there would be no excuse for not getting those words onto the page. But things don’t always work out that way and most of us find plenty of reasons to give up and watch TV instead.
One method you might find useful if, like me, you’re not always delighted by the prospect of sitting at the computer with no end in sight, is to set yourself deadlines. Not just one, but many.
Consideration Of Theme In Story
When someone asks you what the theme of your story is, it can be a hard question to answer. This doesn’t mean your story doesn’t have one, it just isn’t overt, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, theme isn’t something you want front and centre.
That is, the reader doesn’t need to know from the outset what themes you’re going to be looking at. And even if by the end they can’t really put their finger on exactly what the overarching theme was, they just have a feeling that they can’t quite put into words, that’s fine. In many ways that sort of response is preferable to being too obvious or predictable.
However, for the writer, it’s important to know how theme is created, how you can shape it and what the mechanics are.
A Good Liar Makes A Good Writer
Stories are filled with unlikely occurrences. It’s hard to avoid unless you’re writing about very mundane events. But no matter how fantastical things get, and how willing the reader is to suspend their disbelief, it’s the writer’s responsibility to make what’s happening on the page feel believable.
And there are plenty of attributes of the good liar that can prove useful in doing this.
A lot of which comes down to not what you say but how you say it.
Putting Ideas In The Reader’s Head
If Jack and Diane were about to have a baby so they bought loads of baby clothes, but then Diane suffered a miscarriage and was no longer able to have children and they ended up selling all the baby stuff, that would make for a sad story most people would sympathise with.
But if I put the story in this form:
For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.
…the impact of what happened is much sharper.
The difference, other than the impressive brevity, is that in Hemingway’s famous six word story, the realisation of what happened occurs in the reader’s mind.
Even though there are no details and no specifics, the part of the brain that puts two and two together and comes up with four adds that feeling of accomplishment to the emotion being expressed, magnifying it.
Writers Write, Right?
Generally speaking, starting writing isn’t the problem. If you’re up for it then getting words on the page isn’t that hard. At first.
Enthusiasm, motivation, belief in your ideas — these things tend to be in abundant supply at the beginning.
Two weeks later, though, things may have changed. It’s all very well sitting down with the right intentions, but what do you do when all that drive you had goes missing?
Writing The Spooky Scene
We’ve all read stories where we get a weird creepy feeling even though not much is happening on the page. No monsters jumping out, maybe just someone hears a noise, sees something out of the corner of their eye and it’s enough to give you the willies.
But when you try to write a scene full of psychological horror it’s not as simple as putting the character in a spooky environment and letting the reader’s imagination do the rest.
Predictability stems from familiarity. You know what’s coming next before because you’ve seen it before and you know where it’s going.
But familiarity is also a basic part of storytelling.
Good versus evil, boy meets girl, monsters in the dark — these sorts of stories have been told in one form or another since we developed the ability to communicate.
So, how do we write stories that satisfy our need for certain types of narratives, and at the same time make them seem fresh and original?
There are many books on writing that break down the structure of a novel into individual building blocks.
Strong Character Is Strong?
In fiction, characters who show themselves to be strong are considered to be appealing to readers. But what exactly counts as strength and what doesn’t?
When it comes to female character this is an especially contentious subject, the main criticism being that “strong women” in books and movies are often just aping what a man would do.
Violent, aggressive, uncompromising, these are all seen as male traits.
But the thing that make a strong character strong, and makes for a weak character when absent, is the same for males and females. And it has little to do with how badass someone is.
A Nice, Ripe Story Idea
Sometimes a story idea comes fully formed, or at least with enough detail of where it needs to go that you can’t wait to get writing.
Other times a character or a setting makes a strong enough impression on your imagination that you feel like you have the starting point of a story, but beyond that you have no clear indication of where to take it.
If you start writing with not much more than the germ of an idea it might work out, inspiration might strike when you need it—some writers indeed are only able to work in this fashion—but most people will struggle to fill three hundred pages off the back of a vague notion, even when that notion is full of potential. And there’s nothing worse than getting a hundred pages in and realising you’ve run out of steam.
So, how can you fatten up your idea, getting it into the kind of condition that means the ideas will lead you one to the next, rather than you having to force yourself to strain your brain to come up with stuff?
Inside Inner Conflict
A character who knows exactly what to do and is happy to do it makes for little in the way of tension and drama.
Giving a character emotional and ethical issues to wrestle with as they navigate the story adds depth both to the character and the story.
When dealing with the struggle that goes on inside a character there are three main areas to consider:
1. The difference between inner conflict and plain old dithering.
2. Demonstrating to the reader what’s going on inside a character’s head without resorting to endless inner monologues.
3. How do you make internal conflict as interesting and entertaining as external conflict?
I’m going to look at each of these in turn, hopefully suggesting some useful techniques for making the most of this element of storytelling.