Writing Better Stories, part 2

No confusion here.
No confusion here.

Yesterday we looked at a story a friend had written https://atomic-temporary-57188753.wpcomstaging.com/?p=784&preview=true&preview_id=784   that was good but wasn’t grabbing me, and after some analysis I figured out why. In that post, we discussed its wordiness. Today we continue with my analysis. (Occasionally I’ll share a story critique here that I think will benefit all writers. We need examples of problems and examples of solutions so we can spot these situations in our own stories and correct them.)



Here’s the original story:

Lynn sniffled. “I miss home. I miss my family, I miss my dog, I miss my mom’s breakfast empanadas. And now, with the Travel Ban, I couldn’t go home to Phoenix if I wanted to.” She buried her face in her palms, her shoulders shaking. A muffled, “I’m scared. What if they all die? I wish I could warn my family.”

“I’m scared too, Lynn. My husband’s all alone in Idaho. I just heard that the first case was reported in Boise. I hope he’s masking.” Angie thought for a moment, remembering the coded message. “Does your family have a safe place to go to?”

My analysis:

This is all good, but does anybody ever lash out and break down and cry? Because somebody should, right, in a situation like this? With the world possibly coming to an end? They’re kinda calm… that’s not super interesting, is it?

 “What if they all die? I wish I could warn my family…”

This is your key element in the story, impending doom. I think your characters (not necessarily the scientists, but maybe even a few of them or at least one) need to express this, dramatically, more often. If I were to take your whole story in a Word document and highlight the places where characters express BIG EMOTION, how many would there be, and with what emotional range and depth?

Think about it. Even a comedy has poignant moments.

Just do what I did in the wordiness example, but do it for emotional range. Find a place where emotions could run high – any scene – and make them run high. Not everyone keeps an even keel, nor should they, in fiction. In “Poggibonsi,” the working title of my upcoming comedy, I wrote Sam as a very, very funny smart ass, saying lots of outrageous things, but even I’m not as much of a smart ass as she is. (Wait, I wrote her. Yeah. In fiction you can and must stretch that range.)


Tension is a whole other thing. “The Navigators” was my first experience with proactively and purposely working tension into a story on a constant basis. It’s a sci fi thriller and it moves along at a fast pace. It’s fun to read, but one critique found all the twists and turns to be too much. That’s okay, but the bigger sin is to have too few surprises. Tension keeps a reader engaged. Like a golf game requires long drives and short putts and sand trap shots, some elements of tension are long (your overall impending doom) some are short (somebody runs out of gas on the way to do something important) and some are in between.

In the end of the world virus story, it seemed to lack some tension.

My analysis:

What’s one of the rules? MC goes from point A to point B and author throws all sorts of stuff in his way. Put him up a tree and throw rocks at him. I think that lack of tension was what caused all his rewrites. He had a general tension in what’s coming, but not an intense one(s). Adding that will ratchet the story up.


Adding those three elements will make the story ready. Yours, too. Boil it down, add emotion when appropriate, and add elements of tension throughout. Believe it or not, the net effect will not make the story any longer. It will be much better, though.

Here’s the another thing to consider: leave it. Let it be what it is and write the next story. This is not your only good idea and reworking it for the fourth time isn’t necessarily the best way to improve as a writer. Let it be what it is and when you do your next story that one will be even better. I know you want this one to be that good! It can’t be, because you’ll improve with each new story and because we can’t usually see our habitual flaws in our existing stories. It’s frustrating but it’s true, and we don’t improve by rewriting the same story, we improve by writing new stories.

I’m not saying don’t rewrite. You should. But it depends on what we’re trying to achieve with it.

Some people polish a thing forever. I don’t care for that kind of rewrite. Others just want to catch the spelling errors, like me, and think it’s good to go – and that’s a different problem.

There’s a happy medium.

Write it, let it sit, and have a second pass. Fix what you see, then let other people see it. Add in their suggestions when appropriate, and then send it to beta readers. Add in the thoughts from the betas if necessary, and you’re probably done.

I don’t deny the rewrite process. I oppose the polish forever, constantly rewrite from the beginning, five years per story process.

Because there are other stories are in you.  Let them out.

By carrying that computer around, he looks like he just might know something, doesn't he?
Can you believe this guy has several bestsellers?

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Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

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