Write Better Stories, Part 1: Painting The Layers Of Your Story

A good story is basically “Somebody wanted something and they had to overcome an obstacle to get it.”

 

Without that… no story, really.

 

(The stories that really make readers do flip flops (in a good way) have surprises. The premise “nothing is as it appears” is an awesome storytelling device, and is the main underpinning of several of my stories. It’s a kick when Critique Partners go “Didn’t see that coming!” Do it when you can.)

 

So… let us begin at the beginning.

 

PLOT

Fred goes to the store.

 

That’s a story. Simple and effective, but not very interesting. Nobody’s reading that story. Because there’s no obstacle to overcome, and we said in a GOOD story they had to overcome OBSTACLES to get what they wanted. Fred wants something, yes. He has to go to the store to get it, so technically the distance between him and the store is an obstacle but YAWN not a very good one as far as reading goes. Are ya with me?

 

But if on the way to the store, Fred was attacked by a wolf and got his arm chewed off, now we have something interesting!

 

A little over the top, yes; but much more interesting than just Fred going to the store.

 

To increase the TENSION, I could say that Fred is going to store to get some super important medicine to save the life of his dying child. Like, the kid had some kind of allergic reaction and Fred has to get an EpiPen from Walgreens.

 

Now we are starting to have a story.

 

So when the wolf attacks Fred, or he gets a flat tire, that creates tension because we’re worried about Fred getting back in time to save his child.

 

Uh… so what’s tension, exactly?

 

TENSION is the sense that something is about to happen. The anticipation can be for something good or bad, as long as readers are holding their breath in anticipation. (Janice Hardy, Fiction University http://blog.janicehardy.com/2008/07/tension.html ) Tension is any element that evokes emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear and stress on the part of both the reader and the characters in a novel. (Nancy Curteman Global Mysteries https://nancycurteman.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/what-is-tension-in-a-novel/ It’s the threat of the unknown. Anticipation of Christmas morning. All that stuff. Get it?

 

As a writer, you know what’s going to happen in a scene – remember when I said Stacie wasn’t worried when her friend got hauled away? Because I KNEW Stacie’s friend would be okay. Readers didn’t. Stacie didn’t, but I had her acting like she did. Oops. I missed out on a place for tension (because I was rushing to the next scene that had a LOT of tension). That’s easy to do in a first draft. Paying attention to Critique Partners and doing a second draft will fix that.

 

SUBPLOTS

This is where it gets gooooood.

We should have a subplot in the Fred story; something about how maybe Fred was supposed to do this earlier and forgot, or behind the scenes somebody is plotting to kill his daughter by getting her peanut butter when she had an allergy. Maybe Fred has made some enemies.

 

This makes for some interesting second tier characters, ALL of whom should act as though the entire story is about them. Yeah. Think about that. They’ll be interesting then, won’t they? And your story will be better for it.

 

Okay. So: main plot, sub plot. Or a few sub plots. So far we have a couple of layers; we have some nice paint. Now, think about Jurassic Park, one of my favorite movies. The plot? Real live dinosaurs you can go see! Oh, and they get loose and kill everybody!

 

Subplot(s): Dennis/Newman-from-Seinfeld is gonna steal the dino embryos and help a rival park get… dinosaurs!

 

Also, Dr Ellie Statler and Dr Alan Grant are thinking about having kids; she wants them, he doesn’t. (“They smell. Some of them smell. Babies smell.”)

 

John Hammond, the billionaire funding the park, is facing a lawsuit. He needs to open! Soon!

 

And on and on. But you don’t think about any of that when you hear the words Jurassic Park, do you? You think about that BIG T-REX EATING THE CAR WITH THE KIDS INSIDE.

 

Because it’s awesome.

 

To add depth to OUR story, we want to have some relevant subplots. To make the layers interesting and relatable to readers, we want to…

 

Add some EMOTION.

 

How does Fred feel about this? How does his daughter feel about it? Depending on POV, maybe it’s Fred’s wife watching the whole thing happen. Or some omniscient eye in the sky.

 

Let’s say it’s Fred.

 

So Fred is nervous he thinks in inner monologues – thoughts expressed in italics. How will I get home and save my daughter? The store closes in five minutes and I’m 10 minutes away!

 

Like that.

 

Why is that more interesting?

 

Glad you asked.

 

That sort of thing that’s called putting your characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them.

 

Fred has to go to the store, the first rock is the store is closing, the second rock is his daughter is dying, a third rock could be he gets a flat tire, the fourth rock is a wolf jumps in the car and chews off his arm. There could be others. So now we have emotion and we have some tension – what else do we need?

 

Maybe we need a setting. You know, the idyllic town of Middletown, USA, which is actually the name of the town near where I grew up. Talk about idyllic. Paint in as much detail as needed – or as little.

 

The nice quiet suburb in the nice quiet city of Middletown, in the nice quiet Midwestern United States… a horrible tragedy broke out! A mass murderer is trying to kill children by putting peanut butter in all their stuff at school, and while police hunt him down, Fred has to run to the store.

 

Or maybe that’s a little over the top. But you get the idea.

 

What other layers need to happen to the story?

 

Maybe nothing. Maybe several little subplots will rise and fall during the span of the big story.

 

If we add some dramatic elements of how Fred feels about all this, emotions, the tension goes up and makes it much more dramatic – and that makes it more interesting to read.

FRIDAY: a new flash fiction challenge!

SATURDAY: I don’t know yet. Check back. I might sleep in.

SUNDAY: Write Better Stories, Part Two: 6 Things To Avoid And To Be Sure To Incorporate (If You Can).

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Dan's pic
Your humble host.

REBLOG me! Or SHARE this post on Facebook and Twitter! See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them. The FOLLOW button is now in the lower right hand corner.

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Hit the Contact Me button and I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends.)

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

4 Common Sense Reasons it can benefit you to Self-Publish

This had a couple of nice tidbits for you!

Pearls Before Swine

Crazy Woman Drinking Wine

Twenty years ago, a book followed a routine process: You poured your heart and soul into a manuscript and when you finished it, you started calling agents and editors who most likely told you to send them a query letter. Next step was usually a book proposal, and a few sample chapters. Then the waiting game started, usually ending with disappointment. On the other hand, the option to self-publish was there, but it had a certain stigma; a stigma that still exists today: “Your book isn’t really published because you couldn’t get it accepted by a “real publisher”. A real publisher? Excuse me for not laughing my butt off, are we not  human beings? Or are Self-Publishers merely robots? Or are Traditional Publishers too foolish to know that the only difference between a Traditional Publisher and a Self-Publisher is that the Self-Publisher does everything themselves? Anyone can be a publisher.

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No Blog Views or Comments? Read this.

I’m still on vacation so you get another reblog today. CS Wilde is a friend of the blog and and offers some insights for you.

 

First, SORRY about yesterday’s post that had that comment about indie authors. I know it read as a slight but that wasn’t intended by the author or blogger, it was just somebody’s opinion. You know I support indie efforts 100% but that doesn’t mean some people don’t carry the old preconceived notions. The other stuff in that post was helpful, though.

 

Now, here’s CS!

 

C.S. Wilde

So here I am, scrolling down my WordPress reader feed, sorting through the posts with the tag “Writing”, and then I find a bunch of brilliant writing with zero likes or comments.

Seriously, there’s a bunch of talented authors out there who are simply invisiblebecause they don’t know how social media works.

It’s all about engagement, people.

Anyway. I’m all about encouraging talented writers, so I go ahead and leave them a message. “Hey, great job!”, or “Hey, I liked this!”, and I click ‘like’ on their posts too, because their writing deserves some love.

And then I never hear back from those authors again. This is super common (specially amongst newbies).

Look, it’s a simple rule: Engage with your audience.

When someone reaches out to you, reach out to them, especially if they say they like your work. Check their blogs, figure out how they would…

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How I Write

I always enjoy when an author shares their process, so you get a SECOND reblog from friend of the blog CS Wilde. There are many things to be picked up from each person we read. (I’ll be back from vacation soon, don’t worry.)

Again, SORRY about yesterday’s post that had that comment about indie authors. I know it read as a slight but that wasn’t intended by the author or blogger, it was just somebody’s opinion. You know I support indie efforts 100% but that doesn’t mean some people don’t carry the old preconceived notions. The other stuff in that post was helpful, though.

Here’s CS!

 

C.S. Wilde

This is a tag going around, and since a few people have asked me about  my writing process (I find that incredibly flattering to be honest!), here it is!

Anyone interested, feel free to tag yourselves and answer the questions! Do leave a link to your post in the comments!

1. What are you writing?

Right now two short stories. One is a Sci-fi Romance and the other is a Dark Fantasy.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve been told my writing is like a mix of Sara J. Maas and Lauren Oliver, so you try to figure that one out.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Because I love it!

4. How does your writing process work?

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I Don’t Wanna Do Book Signings, Do I?

marketing
Nobody wants to do marketing – until it WORKS.

No, you little introvert, you probably don’t. Here are some reasons why you should and a few tips to make it go smoothly, from Frank Allan Rodgers by way of friend of the blog Kelly Abell:

https://writewithkelly.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/ideas-for-successful-book-signings/

Frank has lots of great ideas, and so does Kelly, so you can learn a lot from them!

I’m still on vacation so you get another reblog today. CS Wilde is  friend of the blog and and offers some insights for you.

There is a comment in the post regarding indie authors. I know it reads as a slight but that’s just an opinion. You know I support indie efforts 100% but that doesn’t mean some people don’t carry the old preconceived notions. The other stuff in that post was helpful, though.

00 frank allen rodgers.jpg
Frank
kelly abell
Kelly

 

More Good Stuff About Building A Mailing list

No, I haven’t started building my (new) mailing list yet. Remember Al’s post? It had a lot of good information in it and so does this one, and I’m at the “working on what my giveaway should be” phase. But meanwhile, add to your list of good ideas via the post from Nosegraze.

00nosegraze

https://www.nosegraze.com/build-email-list/

I especially like where she compares blog sites and features, and goes into MailChimp- pretty extensively.

 

So as you are working through your to-do list, read this and check out the many good suggestions!

 

 

 

Christmas Flash Fiction Challenge!

00 Santa Dan
This is the last one of these with the hat.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

This is your present, from me to you!

It occurred to me that you will have some down time this week. Not today, necessarily, but in a few days. At which time you’ll check in and see we had a writing challenge that could brighten your writing day. And here it is.

For the NEW YEAR, the challenges will be a little challengey-er!

More challenging! More difficult! More fun! (For me, anyway.)

So we better get ready. This challenge will do that because very few people will participate, but those who do will have a big advantage in the new year. Just sayin’.

00cp
It’s kind of like a gift. (Read on. You’ll see.)

Ready? Here we go.

Take a topic from the Random Subject Generator below

http://writingexercises.co.uk/subjectgenerator.php

and that will be the theme of your story. (Mine was about betrayal – which is pretty good!)

You build your story around that.

Easy, right?

BUT!

00 gs
Remember, he was a good guy by the end of the story.

You ALSO build your story within a classic genre, DERIVED BY A RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR!!

 

Bwahahahahahahahaaaaaaa!

 

There are two reasons to do this. One, I’m evil. But you knew that. Two, those writer muscles need to be built where they haven’t been. You fantasy folks need a little romance in your stories (Star Wars was a fantasy but it definitely had a romance going on underneath, didn’t it?) You romance folks need a little action adventure in your stories (Dr. Zhivago had a revolution going on for pete’s sake!)

 

Build those neglected writer muscles!

It only hurts for a little while but you might find out you’re good at it.

TheNavigatorsDanAlatorre
No, you cannot buy it yet.
Poggi cover FINAL
Can’t buy this yet, either.

For example, I have often mentioned the kiss I had to write for The Navigators. That was really difficult for me at the time (eight rewrites for one kiss), but friends here helped me learn how to do it. (Yes, I had several grown women “teach” me how to kiss.) That helped a lot when I had to do romantic stuff in Poggibonsi (I stretched those muscles but I also now had a network of people to bounce the scenes off of before they were aired to my critique group – HUGE benefit), and THAT helped when I had to do two steamy sex scenes in The Water Castle – which had readers fanning themselves, they were so hot. (It was all implied stuff, too. Much more difficult, IMO. But they were honest, realistic, sexy and tasteful. Because I developed some new writer muscles. Most important, they were well received – as in, they were good writing.)

If I can, you can.

A great story usually contains elements from several genres. Adding these things enhances you stories, and practicing them here makes you a better writer.

Thaaaaat’s what you want!

Eating_through_lunch
I DO want that.

(Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.)

Genres: Use the Random Number Generator to get one of these:

  1. Romance
  2. Murder Mystery
  3. Action Adventure
  4. Thriller
  5. Sci Fi
  6. Fantasy (like dragons and knights in shining armor, not sexual fantasies)

Random Number Generator: https://www.random.org/

You know the drill:

  1. Use the Random Subject Generator to pick your THEME
  2. Use a Random Number Generator to select your GENRE
  3. Write a story up to 3000 words that is obviously written using both theme and genre.
  4. Post your story below in the comments with a link to your blog where
  5. You also post it on you blog
  6. And mention what the heck this is so people don’t think you’ve gone schizo
  7. Read and comment on OTHER people’s entries. That makes it fun. Allegedly.
  8. You have one week. Noon Friday a week from this posting date (EST – Tampa, Florida time in the U S and A) is plenty of time, slacker!
  9. IF you intend to play, post a comment below so I can give you crap when a week passes and you don’t post it, EMILY.
  10. Um… I think that’s it.

Get after it!

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Dan's pic
Your humble host.

REBLOG me! Or SHARE this post on Facebook and Twitter! See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them. The FOLLOW button is now in the lower right hand corner.

 

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Hit the Contact Me button and I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends.)

 

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.