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!

Twist that Ending and Twist it Again

The Art to Twisting an Ending

by Deborah Owen

We all know a surprise ending when we see one, but how do you write it? Read on to find out.

Wikipedia defines a twisted ending as an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain a surprising irony, or cause the audience to review the story from a different perspective by revealing new information about the characters or plot.

In other words, a twisted ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. This literary device is also referred to as a surprise ending.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first master of twisted endings in film. In only 30 minutes, he could develop a plot and mislead the viewer. His technique was something akin to the game of “Clue,” allowing the viewers to draw their own faulty conclusions. This type of twisted ending is called a “red herring.”

In the movie Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends his life searching for the white whale that bit his leg off. The twist comes when Ahab becomes ensnared in ropes attached to the great white and the whale drags him to his drowning death.

Examples: Let’s suppose a man has murdered a woman and her husband is out to catch the killer. Just as hubby catches the murderer, the police arrive and take the man into custody. How can you twist that ending? There are many ways and none are right or wrong. You have literary license to do as you please, but do follow one rule: satisfy your reader. Here are a few ideas:

1. The husband’s vendetta is to see the killer die, but when the murderer goes to trial, he begs for the death penalty. Now the husband wants him to live a miserable life in prison.

2. Suppose the killer became a Christian and begged the husband to forgive him? Think how that would change the parameters of this case.

3. Suppose the murderer was sentenced to life without parole? The husband of the dead woman is delighted with the verdict, but an inmate kills the murderer on the first day in prison. Oops.

4. Or… the killer could escape from the courtroom, dash into the street and be hit by a semi.

5. The judge sentences the man to death. The dead woman’s husband is happy, but his grief drives him to his knees and he becomes a Christian. He changes his mind about wanting the killer to die and instead, leads a campaign for a stay of execution.

The best ending is when you twist the ending, and then twist it again. For example, let’s make this murderer a really evil man. In prison, he killed two people but wasn’t caught in the act. Eventually, he gets paroled and is promptly hit by a car. The reader thinks justice has been served… but the man doesn’t die. He’s paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.

The secret to twisting an ending is finding the point where you can veer off to an alternative resolution. Exactly what you do with it from that point is up to you.

Your turn. Think of a scene and how you can twist the ending and share it with us.

And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and check out our privately tutored writing courses. Sign up for monthly writing tips at http://www.cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Basic Story Structure

Story Structure 101

by Deborah Owen

All creative writers are bound to an invisible law of journalism. From the beginning of time, the same structure has been used. All of the great writers use it. But after this lesson, you will see that story structure is far more than the initial breakdown:

  • Exposition – the beginning, what the story is about
  • Conflict –  man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. internal conflict
  • Climax – releases the main plot
  • Resolution – resolve all situations

If you google “story structure,” you will find many variations. You might find plot, conflict, conclusion – or theme, climax, and conclusion. No matter how you word it, the basic answer is the same. Without any one of these elements, the story will flounder.

But you must expound on the following things, no matter what kind of story you are writing:

  • Point of View (POV)
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Writing style
  • Genre

If you want to transfer your reader from their sofa or chair to the scene in your mind, you must use settings. This can be anything from an open window with a curtain blowing in the breeze to a murder scene in progress. The best idea is to open midway through an action scene. This will grab your audience quicker and keep them longer, as they read to find the outcome.

There is a difference between plot and theme. Plot is the event (or series of events) that occurs in the story. Plot is the central heart of what the story is about. Theme, on the other hand, is the underlying motivation that drives the story.

The open window with the curtains blowing in the breeze is part of a setting, which in turn is part of the larger picture, the plot. Every time there is an event in the story, you must ask yourself these questions: “Why is the window open? How did the window get opened? Obviously, someone opened it. But why?” These questions move you into the theme of the story. Always ask yourself, who, what, when, where, why and how. The answer to these questions is the theme that drives the story, the underlying motivation of the story – if you will, the reason why the story is there.

Point of view is how the reader sees the story. If you tell it in first person point of view (I went to the store…), the reader will see the story through your eyes. If you tell it in third person point of view, (he went to the store…), the reader will see the story through the character’s eyes. New writers usually like to write in first person, but the majority of editors are now mostly buying third person. This new trend makes a huge difference in choosing your POV.

A few brief words on some of the above: Characterization – make your characters real to the reader by concentrating on descriptions, attitudes, failures, and quirks. Dialogue – it’s okay to use accents, but preferably not on the main character. And for settings – use anything that describes where a person is, or will be in conjunction to plot or theme.

What problems do you have in story structure? Let us know in the comments below! For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice newsletter at www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com!

What is Speculative Fiction?

An Awesome New Look at Traditional Fiction

by Victoria Pakizer

Speculative fiction contains every awesome genre of entertainment available. It is fantasy, horror, science fiction, different realities, alternative history, superhero fiction, utopias (a wonderful society), dystopias (a terrible society), steampunk (updates of Victorian era), cuberpunk (where virtual reality and true reality are difficult to separate), magical realism, fairy tales, etc. or a mixture of any of the above. The easiest way to summarize speculative fiction is: any story that takes place in a reality that is different from our own.

These movies, shows, and books are examples of speculative fiction: The Matrix, Dawn of the Dead, Dollhouse, Clockwork Angel, Smallville, The Sixth Sense, Brave New World, Shiver, and The Lord of the Rings.

One major component of speculative fiction is science fiction. If you read a story about aliens, alternative universes, advanced technologies, futuristic settings, time travel, or something similar, you’re reading a science fiction novel. Science fiction deals with the more plausible side of make-believe. As the saying goes, science fiction may not be fiction forever. Examples of this are Star Trek, Back to the Future, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Firefly.

Another genre included in speculative fiction is paranormal/horror. This genre is stuffed with creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, demons, and zombies. When people think of horror, they usually think about a group of teenagers with an IQ below 30 getting lost in the woods, chased by a cannibalistic family, and death scenes that involve blood, guts, and gore. While that certainly counts as horror/paranormal, so do stories that involve werewolves, such as Teen Wolf, or ghosts like Hamlet. Other examples of horror/supernatural are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula, and Silent Hill.

Speculative fiction also includes fantasy. Some elements of fantasy are dragons, wizards, elves, King Arthur, and Zeus. Fantasy usually has a “medieval” feel to it and may envelop myths and legends, but “urban fantasy” can take place in a realistic setting like New York City. A Song of Fire and Ice, Merlin, and Enchanted are all examples of fantasy.

So, if we have science fiction, horror, and fantasy as separate genres, why do we need speculative fiction? We need it for TV shows like Supernatural, a story about two brothers who hunt monsters. We assume the show is mostly horror/paranormal, but it features demons who create alternative dimensions, angels who travel through time, and ghosts who cause fairy tales to come to life.

Supernatural has horror creatures comprising both science fiction and fantasy elements, and that’s where speculative fiction enters. Whenever a work involves more than one genre, you can call it speculative fiction.

There’s an unspoken rule in creative writing that states don’t mix genres. For example, if you’re writing a science fiction novel, it’s best to stay away from fantasy elements. It could be jarring if, in the middle of Star Wars, Lancelot showed up riding a dragon to save the day, but we’re finding more and more authors who are smudging the dividing line between genres.

The TV show Angel features a vampire who travels to alternative dimensions on occasion. Thor is a stereotypical superhero movie that relies heavily on Norse mythology. Mixing genres can result in magic.

Authors who don’t understand speculative fiction may find themselves stuck in a box, afraid to let Athena fight zombies, but speculative fiction says – why not?

If you’re a good enough writer, you can write about aliens meeting King Arthur. Writers are trained not to break the rules, but with the genre of speculative fiction, feel free to do so. This genre opens countless creative options! Good luck and have fun breaking the rules.

Have any crazy ideas for Speculative Fiction? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to go to the www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out more about our creative writing courses!

Story Writing Tips

Tips on Writing an Enticing Story

by Terri Forehand

There are thousands of story writing tips, but don’t let them entrap you until you want to quit. Think of writing rules as guidelines written in stone… but only for a while. For now, they will keep you focused so that you can write a properly structured story that is clear and intriguing.

Yes, learn the story writing tips, but after you’ve sold to a few small markets and a couple of bigger ones, branch out and experiment with style. See what works best for you.

Outlines

Most creative writers use some form of outlining to capture the essence and form a plot before they start writing. A formal outline offers beginners crucial structure that makes the story flow. If that idea scares the bee-gees out of you, you aren’t alone, but give it a whirl. It might surprise you. Although some writers fear it will starve their creativity, facts point in the opposite direction. It’s always a good idea to use a road map on a trip.

Whether you do it mentally or by analysis, you must know where the story is going. It will save rewrites and editing in the end. Outline by scenes and fill in the details as you go.

Research

Research is essential. It might broadly define insanity, responsibility, or foster care, or it may be so detailed that it includes extensive history of an area, government operation, or clinical trials for a new cancer treatment. Invest research time in your story/article to add realism and convincing arguments.

Verbiage

Verbiage is the fancy word for writing tight. Fall out of love with your words. Learn to brutally delete favorite phrases and anything that doesn’t move the story forward. Store those deleted phrases and use them another time. Most writers can delete 500 words out of 2,500. Slash unneeded adjectives and adverbs that end in –ly. Use descriptive adjectives and active verbs that make a statement. Anything that survives the cut will be solid meat.

Setting

Another story writing tip: use settings to your advantage. Spoon-feed the reader atmosphere, time, and place, but don’t dwell on it. Engage the reader by using imagery. Easy. Just mix one or more of the five senses in combination with scenery. Example: The smell of salt in the air brought pangs of homesickness for her seaside home.

Show, Don’t Tell

All stories have some “telling” but hold off on the narration by “showing” scenes. There are several ways to do this. Dialogue and imagery are two methods that work well. For example, instead of saying, “Her hair was bleached,” show it with dialogue: “I see you bleached your hair. I love it.” See? The reader can fully imagine the scene better because their imagination was involved in the process. Let your reader think and feel independently by drawing on his/her personality to make the story real. Above all, never narrate emotions. If your character is angry, don’t tell it – show it. They can stomp, kick a hole in the wall, or smash a glass. Let your reader experience the events as they might happen in real life.

What do you think of these tips? Have any of your own? Share them with us in the comments below!

For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.