Creative Writing Advice #9: Story Writing by the Letters05:40
So you want to write a short story, but you don’t know where to start? No worries – today’s WEbook Writing Secret is here to help.
The key to overcoming writer’s block is structure. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, giving yourself less freedom rather than more can help jump start the creative process. Blame it on humankind’s will to overcome obstacles. If you see a mountain, you’ll climb it. No mountain? Might as well stay in bed.
As a writer, you have lots of options for finding structure. Deadlines, contests, and writing classes are all good ways to harness your boundless energy into real words on the page. But even if you don’t have any deadlines, you can give your writing some structure by using the A, B, C, D, E formula. What’s it stand for?
By breaking down the story-writing process into five simple steps, you narrow the billions of possibilities for starting and writing your story into just one concrete, practical approach. Of course, it’s called a formula for a reason. Stick to the plan too rigidly, and your story might turn out…well, formulaic. You and your readers will have more fun when you add complications and twists. But, just like a jazz musician, it’s worth practicing your scales before you move onto improvisation.
Here’s how it’s done:
Action: Start your story with a compelling action. This action should raise questions in the reader’s mind. Example: Jack and Jill went up the hill. The reader might wonder, “Why did Jack and Jill go up the hill?” This curiosity gets your reader to turn the first page.
Background: Imagine what circumstances could have led up to the initial action – this is the background. The background should at least partially answer the question posed by the reader in response to the action you started with. Example: To fetch a pail of water. The background section should not be too long in relation to the rest of the story – otherwise, it might seem as if your story is about what happened yesterday, instead of what’s happening right now. Your story will be most compelling if you can find a way to convey background without being purely expository.
Conflict: Next, introduce the central conflict of the story. The best, richest conflicts provide a story with forward momentum – they require the character to make an action or choice in the scope of the story, which will have real consequences, changing the character's life or outlook in some way. The conflict should involve both motivation (the character wants something) and stakes (something is at risk). Example: Jack fell down.
Development: The longest part of the story is usually development. Development of what? Of the conflict, of course! This is the “what happens” of the story. As the story develops, the conflict will exert pressure on your characters, and they will make choices in response. Those choices may involve resolution of the conflict, escalation of the conflict, or the introduction of a whole new conflict! Example: And broke his crown.
Ending: At the end of your story, the conflict must be addressed, if not completely resolved. There can still be a conflict at the end – stories shouldn't all end “happily ever after” – but it should be a different conflict than the one you started with. Something needs to have changed, whether it's something subtle or something big. Some of the best endings are those that could potentially be the beginning of a whole new story. Example: And Jill came tumbling after.
Ready to give it a shot? Write your own story using the A, B, C, D, E formula and share it with your fellow WEbookers by posting it in this project. Bonus: The first five writers to submit a story will receive personalized feedback from yours truly – priceless!
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To try your hand at writing short stories, sign up for WEbook today!