16 Golden Rules of Creative Story Writing

Storytelling at its Finest

by Deborah Owen

Stories will differ in message, content, and characters, but each one must have more than theme, plot, and dialogue to be complete. Check your stories to ensure they contain the following 16 elements:

  • Theme – This is the thread that runs seamlessly from beginning to end telling the underlying morals of the story. For instance, Gone With the Wind is not about romance and war. It is about control, manipulation, and weak character.
  • Plot – Usually encased in the central climax scene, or possibly in a series of events.
  • Arcing – The gradual increase of momentum and interest that builds at the beginning, reaches a fever pitch in the middle, and declines into the resolutions of story conflicts at the end. Does your arc come too soon? Too late?
  • Pacing – Some stories move fast and some slow, but all of them move at some rate of speed. Use pacing to make them a combination of fast and slow according to the scenes. High climax scenes move fast.
  • Outline – Whether you do it mentally or by proper analysis, most writers will profit by some form of outlining. Knowing where your story is going will save on rewrites and editing.
  • Resolution – Have you ever watched a TV show and watched the story end, only to say, “But what happened to… ?” Be sure to tie up every loose end.
  • Hook – If you don’t have a hook in the first or second paragraph, you won’t have a reader to worry about entertaining!
  • Point of View – Which will you use? Right now, stories written in third person limited are the best sellers.
  • Story Essence – Every story has characters, theme, plot, and resolution. What makes your story different? Answer: The details.
  • Dialogue – The trick is to make it sound natural. Use contractions, poor English, and half sentences. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue.
  • Characterization – Every character must bear their own bag and baggage of physical descriptions, emotional hoopla, and psychological concoctions. This is what makes a character 3D. Make a list of the 50 characteristics of your two main characters.
  • Research – Absolutely essential! Sometimes it may only define how insane a person can be, how irresponsible parents are, or how careless children can become – but it’s still research.
  • Timeline – Are your scenes out of order? Does your flashback convey the reader back and forth in the proper way? While some authors may dwell on the same scene for a whole chapter, others will skip years in a single sentence. Make your timeline clear.
  • Setting – Your reader is landing in a new story. Let him know where he is. Hint: All stories use settings, but elite writers use imagery – settings that are mixed with one of the five senses. For example: The smell of salt in the air.
  • Verbiage – Believe it or not, you can delete 300-500 words out of every 2,500. Fall out of love with your work. Delete favorite phrases. Slash words that end in ­–ly. What remains will be solid meat.
  • Show, Don’t Tell – Every story must use some “telling,” but hold the narration down and show the scenes instead of telling them. One good way to do this is with dialogue. Here is an example that displays the difference between showing and telling.

Telling: “Mrs. Adams walked into the classroom with bloodshot eyes, visibly upset.”

Showing: “Mrs. Adams stormed into the classroom and slammed her books on the desk. Without looking at the class, she picked up the chalk and began writing on the blackboard. Her shoulders started to shake and she let out a sob.”

See the difference? In the first, you’re thinking for the reader. In the second one, you’re painting a picture and allowing the reader to think for him/herself. That’s the difference between showing and telling. General rule of thumb: never narrate emotions; always show them.

If you include all of these things in your story and it still doesn’t sell, either you need more help in some of these areas, or your sentence structure isn’t up to par. Best of luck!

And as always, be sure to check out www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into one of our fantastic creative writing courses!

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