How to write a story


Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...
Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Not sure why this appeared as a likely candidate for this post…. so, I thought, why the hell not?

It’s been a long standing ambition of mine to write a novel, or a story of some kind, put it in a book and have it published. I actually started writing a book in 2010 or 2011. After a few hundred words were written I began to wonder what it was I was really doing.

Many questions came up. Was it an autobiography? I decided it would be best to start with that, as actual events would be easier to describe than to make them up. If it was an autobiography then what format was I going to use? Was I going to fictionalize it? Or just hand it out, plain and simple? How was I going to deal with unpleasant events, facts? How would I deal with family members, friends and and possibilities of upsetting them? Who would read an account of a decidedly mundane life? I toyed with Titles for it. The Diary Of A Boring Man was one of the titles, I came up with. Finally, I decided to give it a working title of “One Bluish Egg”.

That early experience convinced me of one thing. I did not know HOW to write.
Meanwhile, I had a couple of desultory blogs. There was this other idea that I would write a few essays and be hired promptly by some well-known magazine to write a regular column. Yes, we all dream, don’t we. And I’m a compulsive dreamer. A few essays in, I realized, I still didn’t know how to write at all, let alone write a column. I just didn’t have a method, a style, a voice.

I then took to reading. After the merger of all those desultory blogs in to this one, I started off by reading other blogs. I followed a few, read some more. Learned to comment on other’s blogs. They retaliated, no, wait, reciprocated, yes, that’s the word I was looking for. Now, I have a pool of regulars who read my blog and a pool of bloggers that I read. I see different views, from Spain, Germany, Gibraltar, India, Canada, The United Kingdom and the Unites States. I’ve seen Spain through German eyes, Gibraltar through British eyes, Germany and Latvia through smiling Irish eyes and India through Canadian eyes. I’ve seen Canada through Indian eyes, not just mine, but through another Indian born’s eyes. Of course, he’s seeing mostly Quebec, not Canada, but it’s close enough, eh?

Along the way, I’ve seen wonderful photoessays, a mother and grandmother express her deep sense of attachment and love for her child and grandchild. I’ve met hikers and keep-fitters, teachers, writers, professors, editors and I’ve become richer for it. Most of all I’ve met humans with stories to tell, stories that have touched me in ways I didn’t think was possible. Strangers in real life, not strangers at all in their stories, stories that teach, demonstrate, entertain and make you think. It’s time to say thank you to all of them. And to the others who I will find in the future. May their tribe increase.

On the other hand, last year, as I ramped up my writing efforts, I met up with many writers, authors and poets. Apart from a very few of them, these people sucked the joy out of writing for me.

Some wanted me to dumb my writing down. I’m not sure what I’m expected to do. Make deliberate grammar mistakes? Mess up my spellings? Confused by that, I went to read their writing. I found out that they possess a vocabulary ( or a dictionary and a thesaurus ) far larger than anything I own. I found it very hard to read the words and make out what they wanted to say. Poetic and flowery prose sprouted everywhere. If anything, my writing is already pretty dumb in comparison. I checked my writing against readability tests. I scored high on the readability tests.

This post, for instance, gave me the following scores:

This page has an average grade level of about 7. It should be easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds.

Readability Indices

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease 76.2
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level 5.4
Gunning Fog Score 7.6
SMOG Index 6.1
Coleman Liau Index 9.3
Automated Readability Index 4.3

Text Statistics

No. of sentences 104
No. of words 1169
No. of complex words 108
Percent of complex words 9.24%
Average words per sentence 11.24
Average syllables per word 1.41

Still, I’m told that I’m too “pure”, “difficult to read”. The possible conclusions I can draw from this is that these people are either

  • non-English speakers,
  • maliciously trying to discourage me,
  • too caught up in their own superiority
  • or just plain morons.

The real reason, I think, is that my sentences have too many commas and these poor dears simply don’t understand commas. Also, there is some malicious intent, I believe. Actually, all of the above. Why stint!

English: This systematic overview categorizes ...
English: This systematic overview categorizes the most common text genres – as usually distinguished in travel writing criticism – according to four basic writing modes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are others who talked about technical terms and structure. How my story should have some of this and some of that. A wave of emotional high points and low points, based on a formula. Now, I’m totally untrained. I have read a LOT of books. I don’t believe that a formula exists as far as plot line goes. I have never been to a creative writing class. From my experience of listening to the people sprout such artificial setups, I do believe I never want to attend one. Ever.

There is the question of genre. I’ve read that step one of the process of writing is to pick a genre and sub-genre. People have then tried to explain elements of these genres and sub-genres. Needless to say, clear cut demarcation is hard. What I really mean is, “impossible”. I’ve seen debates about which genre a book / story falls into. With no clear answer. Why then do these people waste their time?

Then there is the “target audience / market”. Once again there is this classification thing. Writers are expected to define their market. Geographic area, type of person, age groups all are to be considered. This does make sense to me. Maybe my experience in marketing and product management influences me here.

Here is what I believe.

Ignore all that talk about genres, sub genres, dumbing down and artificial setting of tension points, conflicts, resolutions, and all that technical mumbo-jumbo when you’re telling a story. I believe that none of this should be influencing your story. Your story is your story. Write the story first. Write it in the best possible way, the better to tell it. Remember, it’s your story. Tell it. Tell it powerfully. To leave an impact. Use whatever tools you have. Give it the best you can.

Once you have the story down, then you can give it a critical read, maybe get someone else to read it for you. Then, and only then, should you worry about the marketing aspects of it. Read your story and then figure out what type of person is most likely to read it and enjoy it. What your target audience is. All those marketing considerations should NOT influence the story and how you tell it.

In that sense, writing, art, creative pursuits are different from traditional product management where you define a market, identify the problem first and then develop a solution / product. If you’re writing fiction, telling a story comes first. Once you have the story, you figure out the market. Of course, if your objective is to write popular fiction to appeal to a specific market then this does not apply. For example, if you are deliberately inserting vampires into your tale because it is trending now, then you’re following the traditional marketing method. Note, however, you still need to make it a compelling read to make it stand out from the others.

Finally:

  • I wasted a lot of my time engaging people trying to figure out all that ^^^^^ up there. Don’t do that. Write your story. Make it stick, powerful, go big.
  • If you’re going to ask someone to read your work to critique it, find the “right person”. Someone who may have read a similar type of work. Or someone who has read a lot of different stuff. I made that mistake. I sent some stuff to people who had limited breadth of reading experience and no depth at all in the field ( theater ).

Go write! And read! Read this blog! The gurus tell me that any 12-year old should be read this.

Prove that you’re smarter than a 7th Grader!

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29 thoughts on “How to write a story

  1. Funny… I remember delving into writers’ forums (fora?) fifteen years ago and finding the whole thing very dispiriting.

    Anyway, the best of luck on this challenging journey, can’t wait to read how it all unfolds for you 🙂

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    1. I have given up on them as far as writing tips go. I only hang around now for info on possible publishers. I don’t even pay attention to the “marketing” formulae they tout.

      Well, as far as the writing goes. The Play ( still doesn’t have a name..) is done. I have sent it out to a friend for a read. Volume 1 of the memoirs is about 70% done… which means it’s all in one document, but I need another 4-5 chapters and then edit the whole damn thing… so another 6 years should do it! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I actually managed to write a short story recently… I was so impressed with myself, LOL! I just don’t have the stamina for anything longer. I make a living writing 1000-word articles, there is a reason for that 😉

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  2. Somehow, I have a feeling that you know all the above things beforehand, and were only trying to validate your notions….but as I said, it is a feeling

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    1. Put it down to inexperience. As I was starting out, i thought I’d better read the manuals for once. Boy was I wrong! From now on, I shall go back to ignoring manuals.

      or rather following that lovely How To Intall Oracle 8 on Linux. ‘First of all, ignore the official Oracle manual’.

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      1. That’s exactly my point. I’m trying to say I’m glad you reached there, though I felt you were always there. Maybe I didn’t use glad, but I’m

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  3. You are not the first one I’ve run into who keeps threatening to write a story, or even worse, a novel. But I do like the hullabaloo you whisk up about your purported ambition. I have met the kind who try and tell you how not to groom your literary hair. Then there was the one who took an oath to weed me out from the Blogdom because I developed a deaf ear or two. In short, I remain incorrigible like keratinous growths in the uncouth crevices of the anatomy. Although entirely unintentional, thank you for boosting my confidence.

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    1. I think the difference is that I don’t consider my writing great. I suffer from a complete lack of confidence in my writing. I’m always amazed at the way so many bloggers and other writers present themselves…with an unshakeable self-belief..

      Good to hear this boosted your confidence.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A difference, indeed! You are a gifted writer, except when you get bored and pack off in a huff. Your modesty presents a striking contrast to the confidence of the junta in the Blogdom. Thank you for being there!

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  4. I have written my first novel and although every agent claims to love the writing and style, they don’t know where to place it as it is a different genre… surely something new and unique = saleability? But obviously not…

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    1. Oh no…from what I can gather the more it sticks to a familiar pattern the better. You, and I, are going to confuse them completely.

      Good luck, I really believe there must be an audience for us nonconformists somewhere. I hope you find it soon. Thanks for sending in your feedback
      I appreciate your taking the time.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Ohhhh my. I LOVE this post. You say it all right, and you say it well. The best kind of writing is honest writing- totally exposing yourself to get the truth. That’s why it’s not easy to be a writer. Forget genres and markets and the count of word syllables. Just write your truth!!
    One disclaimer, or disagreement. There are good creative writing classes. I’ve been teaching some for almost 20 years. We do not criticize – we join for the joy of writing together. We notice positive aspects of each writer’s story, which help us all learn what works. We laugh, we cry, and we learn more about each other than anyone else by sharing our very true stories.
    Keep it up! I know you will succeed.

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    1. I’m absolutely sure there are some good courses. I was speaking in the context of the people I have met online and their need to impose artificial rules. It is quite possible that they failed to grasp the essence of what they heard in the courses.

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  6. Another post written from the heart, slo word. I had to laugh at the various graphics that rated your blog. Who knows what they would say about mine? In the end, no matter what we may each be intending to write, I think we will be most satisfied when we are writing authentically. This means that although we are willing to work to stretch our capabilities as writers, that we cannot necessarily follow the rules of others. Your post validates what so many have encountered on our creative journeys.

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    1. You should try it and see… apparently these are the definitive Ease of Reading rating systems.

      yeah, at the end of the day, I enjoy reading writers who write like themselves. When you try to write like someone else I don’t think it ever works quit as well.

      Like

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