How to write a story (Five simple, no brainer tips)

As I go to author talks, seminars and tutor writing at my local high school, I am amassing a wealth of very simple, boiled down tips for story writing that I wish someone had taught me when I first started. Whether you're considering writing a memoir at the end of your life, or you're starting your storied journey at the beginning, I hope these tips help you as they have informed my own process.

Exploring Emotional Honesty

Think about the most emotional experiences in your life: children are born, people die, you get mugged, robbed, raped, your house burns down. Now I don't blame you if you don't want to write about those experiences, but you would be missing out if you didn't use them.

People love reality shows for a reason. They love loooking into other people's lives and imagining how they live. Have you ever been sucked into someone's facebook feed you barely know, or become fascinated with the comings and goings of your mysterious neighbor? Humans are intensely curious about other humans, and your life experience is unique from any one else's. That is what you're selling. These are the meaty emotions you have to farm. The more honest you can be about your own emotional life, the more engaging your story will be. Period.

Just Write it

Write your story as fast as you can. No one said you have to write it in order (though I wrote a novel out of order once and it was a huge pain to piece together later.)  Write about your emotional moments, write about a specific moment and twist it slightly to make it more interesting. Maybe in your emotional birth story your baby comes out as an alien instead. How would that change that emotional story? Whether you're writing westerns or scifi, romance or upmarket fic, honesty sells. Remember, honesty does not necessarily mean accuracy. You can be honest without being truthful.

Be the Reader

As you write, pretend you're reading the story instead of writing it. What do you the reader expect to happen? What do you want to happen? Let that inform you as you go. Chances are, you've been subconciously dropping hints along the way, and you don't want to disappoint the reader once you have them flipping pages to see what happens next. Remember the cardinal rule of story telling: Don't show the gun in the first act if you don't plan to use it in the third.

When (not if) you get stuck, ask yourself two questions: What does my character want? And how is this going to end? Both questions can help drive the story forward, and help you make better decisions.

Plot is Just a Game

There's this game I used to play on long road trips called Fortunately/Unfortunately. One player starts a story with a plot item - once upon a time there was a polar bear. The next person starts the next sentence with the word unfortunately. (Unfortunately he was very fat.) The next person starts with the word fortunately. (Fortunately all the ladies loved a fat polar bear.) And on and on until you reach a conclusion. Usually you'll want to determine the number of sentences you'll write before you come to a conclusion so your story doesn't trail on forever.

If you play this game with yourself and your own storyline, you'll have a pretty good plot outline to start with. Your character will struggle through adversity, get little wins, and come out a hero.

Talent = Practice/Time

Your first story won't be amazing, nor will your second, and nor will your third. If you're at all concious, you'll realize this. This will disappoint you. Good. Be disappointed. It will push you forward.

Keep writing, and keep editing your work (more on editing soon). One day (with practice) you'll be a better writer, and that version of you can go through all your unpublished work and edit (or rewrite) the concepts you love into something new. 

Writing is learning and growth, and above all it's a journey. Having a finished book is not as satisfying as the work that goes into writing every single day. There is always another book to write, and the next one, we always promise ourselves, will be better.


P.S. It usually is.