11 Tips: What Makes A Good Story?

portrait of girl wearing christmas hat

Everyone loves a good story. That’s the reason why so many people flock to the movies or spend hours reading novels – it’s because we love to get lost in a great tale. Here are 11 tips from the experts on how to write something fabulous.

1. Tension is the cornerstone of any good story. Eric Nylund

2.  A good story, just like a good sentence, does more than one job at once. That’s what literature is: a story that does more than tell a story, a story that manages to reflect in some way the multilayered texture of life itself. Karen Thompson Walker

3.  Be unpredictable, be real, be interesting. Tell a good story. James Dashner

4.  A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. Raymond Chandler

5.  A good story should make you laugh, and a moment later break your heart. Chuck Palahniuk

6.  Tension is the cornerstone of any good story. Eric Nylund

7.  No, it’s not a very good story – its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside. Stephen King

8.  My only conclusion about structure is that nothing works if you don’t have interesting characters and a good story to tell. Harold Ramis

9.  I do feel that if you can write one good sentence and then another good sentence and then another, you end up with a good story. Amy Hempel

10. I’m just trying to write a good story, strictly from imagination. People just think it’s random, they don’t see the rewriting, phrasing of characters, choosing the words, bringing the world to light in which the characters live in. That creates an illusion that this is real. Eric Jerome Dickey

11. I always try to tell a good story, one with a compelling plot that will keep the pages turning. That is my first and primary goal. Sometimes I can tackle an issue-homelessness, tobacco litigation, insurance fraud, the death penalty-and wrap a good story around it. John Grisham

Hope you find these tips useful. For further reading, check out my posts 3 Parts to a Great Blurb and 10 Ideas for Writing Practice  And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Where Do We Get Our Story Ideas?

girl learning person studying

 

“Talking is the first voice of a writer. I always heard it, I just didn’t know you could write it. I write the voices you hear every day—it’s just that people don’t recognize how wonderfully people talk. I think every time a person tells the truth, that person is speaking beautifully.” – Grace Paley

As a writer you’re probably always on red alert looking for story ideas. Maybe you use the world around you, seeking locations and characters and situations, listening in to conversations on buses or trains or in cafes. Changing your daily routine is a way to stimulate the  imagination. Drive or walk to a different part of your suburb or home town and look for different places to write. Writing in cafes is my thing. Challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone in order to find new ideas. It helps to stay out of routine’s boring rut. I need to be physically comfortable and relaxed when I call on the  muse. Early in my writing career, I wrote sitting up in bed. The ultimate cosy comfort zone. Now a comfy couch in a cafe is my preferred relax place. And when I sit in a cafe to write I always have a printout beside me of the previous day’s writing session. So I’m never staring at a blank page. Helps with the panic, What the hell will I write next?

There’s no better way to find out where to get our story ideas than by hearing from the experts.  Check out some of my favorite authorial quotes below:

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”— Virginia Woolf
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”― Sylvia Plath
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott
“I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way – what happens to somebody – but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing – not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens.” –– Alice Munro

 

“If you haven’t got an idea, write a story anyway.” – William Campbell Gault

Some people keep a container filled with single words and draw out a word each day and write from it. That’s a good way to exercise the writing muscle and to get into the right (rather than left) side of the brain.

Good luck on your search for story ideas. I like to tell people I use anything that moves or makes a noise 🙂

For further reading, check out my posts Writing Tip: Don’t Forget to Pause and Writing Tip: Beating Resistance.  And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

Are First Lines That Important?

toddler reading book

Opening lines are the most important part of your story.

“There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s a tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft — I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar. But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” – Stephen King

Some of the best opening lines in literature according to Tony Zeoli are:

1. The Bell Jarby Sylvia Plath

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

2. Gravity’s Rainbowby Thomas Pynchon

“A screaming comes across the sky.”

3. Cat’s Eyeby Margaret Atwood

“Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.”

4. Blue Nightsby Joan Didion

“In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.”

5. Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

6. David Copperfieldby Charles Dickens

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

7. The Book of Strange New Thingsby Michel Faber

“Forty minutes later he was up in the sky.”

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegasby Hunter S. Thompson

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

9. Middlesexby Jeffrey Eugenides

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

10. The Wavesby Virginia Woolf

“The sun had not yet risen.”

11. The Time Machineby H.G. Wells

“The time traveler (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”

12. Lolitaby Vladimir Nabokov

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

13. Slaughterhouse-Fiveby Kurt Vonnegut

“All this happened, more or less.”

14. Sellevisionby Augusten Burroughs

“You exposed your penis on national television, Max.”

15. The Trialby Franz Kafka

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

16. Anna Kareninaby Leo Tolstoy

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

17. Valley of the Dollsby Jacqueline Susann

“You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”

Good luck!

For further reading, check out my posts Writing Tip: A Change of Pace and Writing Tip: To Plot Or Not To Plot.  And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

Why Use Deep Third Person Limited POV?

person holding silver retractable pen in white ruled book

Why use deep third person limited POV?

Because you can insert internal thoughts from the point-of-view character so the reader can get to know them better. In deep third, you don’t have to put her/his thoughts in first person and italicize them.

I like doing this because it allows me to get deeper inside my character’s head, showing more to the reader. You can bring emotion out in your character using deep third.

Author Ann Laurel Kopchick says, because a first person narrator/character knows that they’re telling a story to the reader. When you’re deep in limited third person, that character/narrator is unaware they are telling a story. The reader is reading the unfiltered thoughts, emotions, and feelings of that character.

Here’s an example of Deep POV from ‘Acting Married’ by Victorine E. Lieske:

She set the tray down on the server against the wall. Super. She’d messed up again. If her training had drilled anything into her head, it was that she was supposed to be invisible and never speak unless spoken to. Why couldn’t she do a simple job? She needed to give them the coffee and get out of there.

Have a read of How to Do Deep POV by Ann Laurel Kopchick.
Some of the topics she writes about include:
  • Don’t just report thoughts and feelings, descend into the character
  • Thoughts and perceptions should be that of the character
  • Use terminology, phrasing, syntax, grammar that the character uses
  • Avoid Filtering

Example with filtering:  She saw the car swerve off the road and head straight for her. She dodged away. “God,” she thought, “I could have been killed!”

Example without filtering:  In a hail of gravel, the car careered off the road and bore down. She threw herself to one side as hot air and metal whooshed passed. God, she could have been killed!

Good luck!

For further reading, check out my posts The Writing Process and Writing Tip: Turn Towards the Inner Critic.  And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

5 Tips: Should You Write a Short Story or Novel?

adult book book store bookcase

Should you write short stories or work on a novel? Some say the difference between a short story and a novel is in the pacing. Are you a sprinter or a long distance runner?

Even though a short story and a novel have many similarities, such as characters, dialogue, plot, etc., there are aspects that a short story must have that a novel can live without. You can be looser when writing a novel, take your time building suspense, revealing information about the characters, and meander your way to the ending. The short story writer doesn’t have this freedom. Every sentence counts. The short story is an art form. It needs special skills and talents on the part of the author that novels do not.

And then there are novels-in-stories. My last two books, The Crystal Ballroom (2017) and The Usual Story (2018), are novels-in-stories:

‘While the short story pauses to explore an illuminated moment, and the novel chugs toward a grand conclusion, the novel-in-stories moves in spirals and loops, a corkscrewing joy ride.’ – Danielle Trussoni

Here are 5 tips on whether you should write a short story or a novel from Elizabeth Sims, Writer’s Digest

1. DURATION OF STORY
Obviously, the short story is short; the novel is long. But while short fiction typically ranges from 1,000–5,000 words, there’s another kind of length to discuss: time frame. One of the most prevalent characteristics of a short story is a concentrated time frame. A few hours, a day, a week. A short story that spans years or generations risks leaving the reader unsatisfied.

The novel, on the other hand, is the ideal form for a story that is literally extended in length. If you want to explore the effects of time on your characters, the novel is the more suitable vehicle.

So consider: How much time might your story require?

2. NUMBER OF CHARACTERS
Counting characters might seem simplistic, but actually it’s one of the best criteria for determining the scope of your story. If your cast keeps growing as you flesh out your plot—let’s say you’ll be portraying a large family, or a complex group—then a short story won’t serve. You simply don’t have room in 2,000 or even 7,000 words to draw more than a few characters effectively, giving each one enough presence for the reader to keep them straight, let alone relate
to them.

On the flip side, beware of relying on just a select few characters to carry a novel. On one hand, you’ll be able to develop those characters deeply, but on the other, you’ll risk losing readers who are restless for quicker pacing.

What about point of view? In a novel, the number of points of view is up to you. For short stories, it’s sensible to stick with the classic single POV, either first person or third limited. Briefer stories can also work well with the POV shifting between two characters, but when you get to three or more, the varying perspectives can dilute the power of the story.

3. PLOTS AND SUBPLOTS
I once had an editor advise me, as I was revising one of my early novels, to add more characters. I played around with the idea. As soon as I’d decided to add a few fresh faces and give them something to do, I realized that what my editor had really asked for was more plot.

Ding. More characters equal
more action.

Most short stories have but one plot. The very best, however, have what I call a plot-and-a-half—that is, a main plot and a small subplot that feeds in a twist or an unexpected piece of business that adds crunch and flavor to the story as
a whole.

Consider how much plot you’ve got worked out so far. Does one plot strand, or perhaps a plot-and-a-half, feel just right? Or is your story straining to bust out and explore territory you haven’t seen yet? Which leads us to …

4. THEMES
Coincidentally, when I got the assignment to write this piece, I’d been rereading Anton Chekhov’s short stories. My copy, a sublime little clothbound volume issued by the Modern Library in 1932, features marginalia written by previous owners. In the blank half-page after “Grief,” a story about a bereaved hackney driver and his callously abusive passengers, someone wrote, “Second-lowest man has one job in life: to keep the lowest man down.”

Now that is an incisive reading of the story. One vest-pocket-sized tale was all the great Chekhov needed to pierce our hearts with that truth. Just like Chekhov, in a short story you should be trying to get at one or two poignant aspects of being human. In a novel, you can create characters, let them loose, follow them and see what they do. If you feel your story will be more a journey than a statement, you may be leaning toward a novel.

5. COMMITMENT
Writing a novel could take a year or more, and whether you publish it or not, it’s a huge investment of time, energy, and mental and emotional strength. If you feel you’ve got a novel on your hands, consider these most important questions:

Do you lie awake thinking about your story? Do your characters come to you at odd moments and stand silently, waiting for you to do something with them?

Are you fully committed to doing whatever it takes to pour out your best? (It bears mentioning that in order to get your best, you often must pour out your worst—and be willing to toss it all in the trash one day.)

Are you afraid of wasting your time on something that might not succeed? (Everybody is.) The real question: Will fear turn you away from this task, or will you push through fear, risking failure but opening untold possibilities?

Will you be sorry if you don’t have a go at it?

Elizabeth Sims adds, ‘Whichever form you select, novel or short story, you should work with joy, with passion and without haste. And hey, you can always change your mind. Writing is a journey.’

For further reading, check out my posts Writing Is Like Becoming a Sushi Chef and Writing Tip: Use Your Obsessions. And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

5 Ways to Recharge Your Creative Batteries

 

beach scene

Feel like you are running on empty? Take time to recharge. You do it for your phone. Why not do it for your self? Sometimes the best way to recharge our batteries is to unplug them. Take a break this holiday season.

Here are 5 suggestions to recharge your creative batteries by Audience Productions

1. CONSUME MEDIA

Sometimes, when you’re stuck on a creative problem, the  best thing to do is see how someone else tackled it. That might involve reading a scene in a novel that gets across a lot of exposition without being boring, or discovering how different line thicknesses makes comics come to life. In a film we’re working on, there’s a transitional scene where the main characters are walking through a park, that needs to show time has passed. So we watched a similar scene in The King’s Speech, which handled the problem in a really cool way. We won’t replicate it exactly, of course, but it has given us some good ideas on making our park scene work well.

2. GET PHYSICAL

If you’re getting restless or bored, go to the gym and bliss out with something physical instead of mental. On the treadmill or cross-trainer, you don’t have to look at emails or think about work. We like to rewatch a rugby league game that our team has won, but you might get the same effect from listening to music or a stand-up comedy album.

3. WORK ON A PERSONAL PROJECT

When client-based work hits a snag, or you feel you’re not giving it your best, turn to a project of your own. We came up with an idea in Sedona. The place we were staying had a litter of Hemingway kittens – who have six fingers on their paws instead of five. We came up with an awful image of them getting drowned in a bag, and that spurred the idea of how horrific it would be to find that, which led to a film idea. This week, we took a day away from other tasks to work on developing the script, which has given us some time to subconsciously reflect on other jobs in the queue instead of brute-forcing solutions.

4. GET A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

If you’re working on something, get other people involved indirectly by posing some specific questions related to their area of expertise. For example, our Sedona script’s main character is a little girl, who finds the bag of kittens. There’s a house number on the bag that spurs the story, so we needed to know how young kids are when they start recognising numbers. So we contacted a friend of ours, who’s a mother of three girls, through Facebook. We ended up chatting for most of the morning, asking questions like, “Would you let your daughter ride alone on a bike?” to find out what would be realistic. That was really helpful, took the story in different directions than we anticipated, and kept us enthused about the project.

5. GO TO THE PUB

Editing is a solitary pursuit, and it can be easy to wall yourself off from other people. The best solution is to go somewhere with friends – which doesn’t have to be the pub, of course – and take in some new experiences, get some fresh stimuli and soak up the outside world. Who knows? You might rescue a bag of drowning kittens and get a great idea for a film!

 

See you next year.

For further reading, check out my posts  Writing Tip: The Feedback Sandwich and Make Friends With Your Feelings.  And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

 

Small Fictions

man walks beside train

Have you tried the short short form yet? I might have mentioned before that I am working on a book length series of small fictions – flash fictions and prose poems, some already published in literary journals.

This is one of my flash fictions, THE BACK PACK first published in Quadrant magazine in July 2011. Hope you enjoy it.

The Back Pack

What can a man who meets you at the station and offers to carry your backpack mean to a woman traveling the world alone?

I was scared, like anyone who has no sense of direction.  The journey was a series of stops and starts.  Whether to use the Eurail pass or post it back home and ask the kids to get me a refund.  Giovanni appeared one European winter, thick padded jacket, woolen beanie, scarf and gloves, tall and imposing,  I’ll carry your bag.

I was small, the backpack the length of my spine, the zip-off bag on one shoulder, the daypack positioned in front like a nine-month baby bump.  That evening, as we climbed the steps of the Corniche – the wind bitter across the Mediterranean, the metal stairs covered with slippery ice, the railing melting beneath my hand.  Soon it would become my railway platform, my steps, and Giovanni my landlord.

We walked there in the crisp night air.  My own place.  It didn’t cost much.  No-one yet knew I was here.  I could ask Giovanni if I needed any help.  I knew my children would be pleased I had a base.  I didn’t want them to worry.  It was the thing I wanted the most secretly, studying maps, absorbing travel books.  To be safe, a desire whispered to the moon that moved behind my shoulder at night.  If you guide me to a safe haven I promise to be happy.  And the moon listened.  I did my best.

The winter sky closed down and the spring began its flowering.  I took photos and painted and rang the children every week.  Watch your money, don’t talk to strangers, be careful walking at night – you know the drill.  The pebbly beach, the weekend markets, it was all there for the exploring.  A glimpse of the sea between terracotta roofs – a vision in turquoise.  The cobbled streets could show which way to follow – and none of them wrong.  A room at the top of the stairs – till June I stayed reading the English books Giovanni had left in the bookcase, shopping for food, telling my kids and friends they should come for a visit.

Where had the months gone?  Almost two years on the road.  Summer approached. The rents would go up and the tourists arrive.  Time to move on.  I could only take with me what I could carry on my back.  A Jewish gypsy they said.  One more step into the unknown.  Pack up, give away what I couldn’t manage, but keep the palette knife and miniature easel.  There was stuff happening back home.    The boys were grown and earning a living.  Their sister turned twenty-one.  People were reinventing themselves all over the place then coming back home.  A thousand train rides later, my mother nearly eighty.  I won’t be around much longer, she cried.

His was a helping hand in a world that says, but what are you doing there?  What are you doing?

Copyright © Libby Sommer 2011

For further reading, check out my posts  What Is A Prose Poem? and Writing Tip: A Sense of Place. And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

Best wishes for the festive season, dear WordPress friends.