Okay, I feel better now. I do apologize for groaning in your ear first thing on a Sunday morning. But I'm getting too old to be digging pits in the back yard -- especially when there are no metaphoric bodies to go into them. Add in a round of paining walls, after the requisite taping, redoing a website -- almost done -- and trying to find time to write and, well, you now know why I'm groaning.
I am also groaning because that wonderful idea I had for a blog post just flew out of my head, replaced instead by one of my characters demanding to know why I haven't been writing HER story. Hasn't she been patient? She's let me write short stories and another novel and almost finish a second and get started on plotting a third. All the while, she's languished in the back of my mind, waiting oh so patiently for her turn. Can't she come out and play?
Whine, whine, whine...and I'm not sure if it's the character or me or both of us whining.
The problem with this character is that, while she's loud enough, she doesn't exactly resonate with me. I've doodled with a story involving her but, well, it just doesn't work. So she's been pushed to the back burner while other stories, stories that do interest me and are fun -- when they aren't driving me crazy -- are written.
Now, I know there are folks out there who will say I ought to go on and write the story...and, fortunately, it is only a short story. At least that's the feel of it. These are the same folks who say you don't need to like a story or enjoy it to be able to write it. Maybe that's true for them, but not for me. If I don't like the story, I find all sorts of things to do to avoid writing. And not just painting and digging pits in my back yard. As much as I grouse about them, I enjoy that sort of physical labor. No, I'm talking about doing such things as washing baseboards, or rearranging the pantry by alphabetizing the contents.
So, what's the point of all this except to let me whine? It's simple. Every writer, editor, agent, or anyone who thinks of themselves as a reader has a set of rules a writer should follow. Some of these rules are essential. You need characters a reader can care about -- whether they connect with the character or are so appalled by him. But they have to care and want to know what happens next. Hannibal Lecter is a perfect example. Here is a character that is so totally evil that it is hard to like him. But, as a reader, you're fascinated by him and what to know more. What made him the way he is? What is he going to do next? Will he get the justice he so richly deserves?
You need a story that has a beginning, middle and end -- even if the end is simply the launching point for another story. Okay, okay, I know there are pieces of "literature" out there that don't fit this but, well, I'm not talking literature. Sorry. More than that, your story has to be written in such a way that your reader keeps turning the page. The first step is to get them to turn the very first page. So hook them immediately. Give them a reason to keep reading. Remember, if you are submitting a short story for publication, you get only a very few paragraphs to hook the editor. A book might get you a couple of pages. But they don't want to read a quarter to a third of the way through a submission before getting to the hook. Honestly, no matter how good the writing, without the hook, they won't read that far.
Most of all, you need a compelling voice for the story. You have to be able to bring your reader into the story, whether you are writing in first person or third. This is the old show-don't-tell adage. And it is harder than it sounds. After all, it's easy to write, "I walked into the room and saw him. Furious, I moved to him and, without warning, slapped him as hard as I could." Those few sentences tell you what happened. They even tell you that the narrator was mad. But there is so much more that could be done with them.
So, dear readers, here's your assignment. Take the above example and expand it. Show us what is happening there. Limit yourselves to three paragraphs. I'll come back later today and add my own take on the scene.
Also, what do you see as the rules that have to be followed in writing a good story?
Okay, I'm off for more coffee and another round of painting. Later!