Writing Tips & Advice
Simply put, stories have a beginning (where the stage, mood, time period and tone for the rest of the story are
established; the main characters are introduced; and the protagonist's problem is defined), a middle (where the
story climaxes; everything comes apart; the tension is the greatest; and conflict peaks), and an end (where all
loose ends are tied up; the major conflict in the story is resolved; and the reader learns how the story has
changed the protagonist). Skimping on any of these story elements will leave the reader confused, bored, or just
plain uninterested. Click here for more about beginning, middle, and end.
Here are some great story lines that over time have held the interest of an untold number of readers:
- Alice in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. The story of a girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a
fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures.
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. The story focuses on a doctor's wife who has adulterous affairs and
lives beyond her means in order to escape the emptiness of her provincial life.
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmel, and his voyage
on the whale ship Peaquod, commanded by Captain Ahab.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The story of the passionate but doomed love between two people
and how it eventually destroyed them and many around them.
- Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber. The story of a young woman with multiple personalities as a result of
severe sexual abuse at the hands of her mother.
Story: A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or
instruct the hearer or reader; a tale.
Plot: The important points and/or events that have significant consequences within the story.
Hook: A technique used typically in the opening of a story but often throughout the story that
"hooks" the reader's attention so that he or she will continue reading.
“Plot is structure” seems to be a standard line in literary circles. I’ve also heard, “Plot is the skeleton or the framework that holds the
story together,” and "The events that make up a story."
Some would argue you can’t start writing a story without a plot in mind. Others say it’s possible to plan the ending first, and then later
create the plot that leads the protagonist to that ending. Still others say it’s possible to just start writing and let the plot evolve on its own.
There is no right or wrong way to create the story.
There are planners (those who prepare an outline and develop the characters before they start writing), and there are pantsers (those
who write by the seat of their pants). Just remember that whatever style you choose, plot development is a process that occurs
throughout the story, and so it is important that it remains consistent from beginning to end.As a starting point, I find it helpful to create a
brief outline of each chapter for the first half of the book. I assume the book will be twenty chapters, but that is just an arbitrary number. I
follow this basic model:
Chapter 1 Establish setting and characters
Chapters 2 & 3 Problem development
Chapters 4, 5 & 6 The conflict begins
Chapters 7, 8 & 9 The conflict escalates
Chapters 10 & 11 Crisis takes place
I don’t write much of an outline for each one—just enough to keep myself on track in order to write in a logical and organized manner.
When I’m finished, sometimes the story has followed my initial outline pretty closely, and sometimes not. But in either case, I have found
the outline to be a helpful tool.
Hooks need to be crafted in a way that draws the reader in, and they need to appear earlier rather than later. Consider a time when
you're looking for an agent or publisher for representation of your book for example. You need to hook them into wanting to know more.
That hook could root in the title of your book, or it may come later in the first paragraph of your query letter. If you try to hook them in any
later than that, your chances of getting their interest diminish.
You want to hook a reader into buying your book with what is written on the back cover. Consider this first sentence on the back cover of
“Lie Down with the Devil” by Linda Barnes.
Boston PI Carlotta Carlyle wants to know what her on-again, off-again boyfriend Sam Gainelli did to earn himself the secret
indictment for murder that’s keeping him out of the country.
If you weren't hooked by the title of her book, certainly you were at least somewhat intrigued after reading the first sentence. Read on . . .
A man with plenty of secrets, Sam won’t tell her anything, much less let her help—and she isn't having any more luck getting info
from her old friends at the Boston PD. Sam’s exile could have something to do with his mob connections, but it can’t be that
simple. Nothing involving Sam ever is.
I’d argue that’s a pretty good hook.
So now you have a potential book buyer’s attention, and maybe that’s enough to entice him to buy the book. But the hooks can’t stop
there. The next hook you need to create is in the first paragraph of Chapter One, and so much the better if you can do it in the first
sentence. If the very beginning of the book isn't as enticing as the back cover, the potential buyer won’t buy it, and the person who bought
the book won’t continue reading. She’ll put it on the book shelf in the community laundry room of her condo building. Oh, wait – that’s
what I do.
Intertwining hooks throughout the story keeps the reader turning pages. They can come in any shape and size but should always relate
back to the main plot in some fashion. Ending chapters with a hook is an excellent way to do this. Force the reader to start reading the
next chapter by ending the previous one right in the middle of high drama.
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