Write what you know… Isn’t that what they say? Here’s a secret that not everyone is privy to, but guess what? Writing what you know isn’t necessarily going to get you the story you want – or that other people want. If you want to know how to write a great story, you’ve got to let your imagination run wild (at least a little bit).
So… Write What You Don’t Know?
Not quite. Basing your story in real life is a great idea, but sticking to it is not how to write a great story. Sticking to it will make a dull story that no one will want to hear, and even the writer might get bored of it. The key is to take what you know and make it more interesting. Make it funnier. Make it weirder. Embellish and add to it. Imagine what might happen if you weren’t constrained by the limits of what really happened.
Your story suddenly gets a lot more exciting.
How Do I Begin?
Well, the first thing to do is think of a story – literally think of something that happened to you recently that might have the basic ingredients of a fantastic tale. Then, if you want to write a great story rather than a mediocre one, you need to ‘cook’ it. A basic story will have the who, why, what, where, and when. A cooked story – a great story – will have lots more depth; emotions, thoughts, descriptions of what is there, word play… So rather than a raw story, you’ve got something that tastes amazing – and makes your audience want more and more.
Here’s an example: I visited a restaurant last night. The food was dire.
That’s a story. But it’s not very interesting. It’s not very exciting. It’s raw, uncooked. Flavourless.
So let’s add some seasoning, let it stew, add some more ingredients, and write a great story: Last night I decided to treat myself. After all, I’d just secured a huge contract and I was feeling pretty good. Better than good, I was feeling epic. So I dressed myself up in a shiny, expensive suit, I hopped into the car (savouring the road of that engine when I twisted the key), and took myself out for a date. When I got there, I should have followed my gut instinct and turned around there and then. I should have done that, and then my gut wouldn’t be complaining now. But what can you do? When the maître d’ spots you and ushers you over to a table, you follow, even if your feet are sticking to the floor and you can smell burning in the air…
And so on. We could go on, but you get the flavour of it all for now.
We Said Stew, No Soup – Give Us Chunks
To write a great story you don’t need to go on and on, thinning down the elements until they’re smooth. A smooth story – one with no conflicts, no antagonist, no element of danger – is a dull story, and we don’t want that. A dull story probably won’t be read, and if it is the reader certainly won’t be coming back for seconds.
Now a chunky story is much better. A chunky story is just that; told in small chunks. That could be short paragraphs, it could be cutting out the stuff that isn’t needed and just going from event to event (whilst embellishing that event). Don’t forget, you’re going to write a great story, not a novel.
Season That Stew!
So you’ve got your story. You’ve got your ingredients. You’ve made it chunky. Now you need to season it all in order to write a great story. By seasoning, we mean making sure there are details in the story that will interest the reason (make the story ‘taste’ intriguing). But don’t overdo it – just like in a stew if there is too much salt you won’t be able to eat it, in a story if there is too much detail you won’t be able to read it. You – or rather your readers – will simply skip over it all, landing on the chunky bits. And that’s a waste of everyone’s time (and they might miss something important that has been hidden in all those unnecessary words.
To write a great story you need to be like Goldilocks – not too much, not too little, you want it just right.
You don’t need to describe every single little thing (no one is interested in how many times you checked your rearview mirror on the way to the restaurant for example, or whether you remembered to indicate (unless it’s integral to the plot)), but make sure you keep their attention by adding in some spice and flavouring.
Taste Your Own Story
We’re not confusing our metaphors here – honest! To write a great story you need to include your own reactions. It makes the story more relatable (even if it’s totally out there and crazy) and gives the readers a few subtle (preferably) clues as to how they should be feeling too. And why not talk to the reader? Ask for their opinion – get them to really taste the story. After all, it works for us…
We CAN Keep The Metaphor Going… Time for the Garnish!
The garnish of a great story is the dialogue. It can really make all the difference between a good story and a great one. Dialogue can include inner thoughts, ideas, actual conversations, things that should have been said but weren’t, things that invisible space monsters mumbled in a dream… whatever. Dialogue is words, and words can flesh out a story in ways that nothing else can – it can give your characters more… character. It can offer a description of a place seen through their eyes. It can show you exactly what they were thinking, and offer conflict too.
Give It A Twist
All truly great stories have a satisfying twist, just like all great stews. Traditional is good, but a twist makes it better. Start off ‘in the norm’ and then reach your turning point, the point where the story changes pace and direction and becomes something worth telling.
When you write a great story you need the ending to be just as good as the rest of the story. You need to wrap things up – or not (depending on how you’re writing it and whether you want the possibility of a sequel). A poor ending can destroy all the good work you’ve done up until that point. In essence, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve cooked the stew, how perfectly you’ve seasoned it, what fabulous garnishes you’ve added, if the story leaves a bad taste in the mouth your readers won’t be coming back for seconds.