After you reach the climax in your story, be brief and be gone. Wrap it up as quickly as possible, being careful not to leave any loose ends. Once you have reached the climax, your readers won’t have any reason to keep reading.
Set your story aside for a week, then go back and rewrite and rewrite more. Ask yourself, “Will it hurt the story if I leave out this word, this paragraph, this entire scene?” If not, take it out. Whittle away all the dead wood. Make sure your characters are well developed, and the main character solves his or her problem, averts disaster, or overcomes his opponent himself? Your scenes should move along smoothly and transition well from one to another. And also make sure you have not left any loose ends?
It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you must use good fiction techniques. People love stories. They want to escape from real life into an imaginary adventure, but they need help with their problems too. You can meet their real needs by meeting their felt needs through the vehicle of fiction. And God can teach spiritual truths through your fictional characters.
This ends the blog series on “Writing the Short Story.”
It may help to think through your story in scenes. (See previous blog for more information on scenes.) Each scene must move the story forward. If an event is unnecessary, leave it out. Even in a book, your writing must be tight.
Scenes include five things:
- Somebody wins
Build suspense as you go along. Keep your readers guessing. Before a conflict is solved, put a barrier in your main character’s path. Don’t give the story away. Once you get into novel writing, you can confront the main character with conflict upon conflict, but in short stories stick to one conflict. Keep your readers hanging on a cliff. In novels, try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. If you don’t, the readers might put your book down and never pick it up again. Don’t you have half-read books on your shelf?
Stories need to be filled with action. Stay out of your character’s mind, and keep the story focused on his or her activities. Once in a while, you can tell us what the main character thinks, but not all the time. Help your readers identify with the main character and the problems he or she is experiencing.
Short stories and novels have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Write the beginning and the end before you go back and fill in the middle. You may change some things as you go along, but you must have a game plan.
Another way to phrase this is the three O’s:
Objective – Beginning
Obstacle – Middle
Outcome – End
In the first paragraph of your story, you must hook your readers. Open with an exciting beginning that makes them want to read on. Also open with the viewpoint character. Write your story as seen from one person’s viewpoint, either first or third person; third person is usually easier to write. Paint a brief picture of your main character, showing his personality, so the reader can see him and identify with him.
Example taken from The Hair Pulling Bear Dog by Lee Roddy:
At first, D.J. Dillon thought the terrible nightmare had returned. In his sleep, he again heard the squeal of brakes, the crash, and then the awful silence. The 13-year-old boy’s blue eyes blinked open. He stared into the soft moonlit darkness of the kitchen where he slept on a rollaway bed.
His blond head turned automatically toward his parents’ bedroom wall beside him. He started to call softly, “Mom?” Then he remembered.
She was dead six months now, killed in that auto accident. The mountain’s silence had carried the sound for miles. D.J. had heard it up the canyon without knowing who was in the collision.
Memories flashed over him again. The hurt swallowed him like a silent, ugly monster. D.J. started to turn over and bury his face in the dusty pillow when he heard the crash again-but now he was wide awake!
Now write a synopsis of your story. Eventually this will form the body of your story. On the first draft, let it flow down on paper. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Just get your story down. If you think of small details as you go, include them. But don’t worry about your construction in this first rough draft. Leave yourself free from constraints so your creative juices can flow. After it is written, lay it aside and let it cool.
Now go on to work on another project. Have a file folder or a folder on your computer labeled with the name of each project you are working on. Keeping organized records is imperative. Every time you find something pertaining to that idea, place it in the file. You may prefer to keep your files and research material electronically on your computer, but I would always suggest you have a hard copy backup.
God inspires us to write; I’m convinced of that. But God doesn’t tell us the words will flow down on paper and settle in concrete. He is not going to do our work for us—He will only guide us along the way. Writing the first draft is the creative part. For me, this is the easiest part. The hard part is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting.
Remember that I told you to write a theme sentence and to make an outline before you began the actual writing. Then get as much down on paper as you can without worrying about the structure. Now let’s go back and put in the actual structure in the next blog.
Currently, one of the fastest growing markets in all of Christian writing is fiction. However, if you are a beginning writer, I do not suggest you start with a novel. Instead, write a short story for a church school take-home paper. See The Christian Writers Market Guide for a list of take-home papers.
The tips I give will work for fictional techniques in nonfiction pieces, such as personal experience stories, as well as for short anecdotal stories written within nonfiction articles and books.
An excellent definition of fiction is given by author Lee Roddy. “Creating characters in conflict culminating in crisis and change with commentary.” The four key words are character, conflict, crisis, and change, called the “4 C’s of Fiction.”
A story is comprised of three elements: theme, plot, and character. Normally you can think of theme as the foundation on which the story sits. Your focus sentence will be based on the theme or main point you are trying to achieve. The story is either character-driven or plot-driven, depending on whether the main character is the most important element or whether the storyline is more important. These three qualities are always integral parts of your story, regardless of your emphasis. Think of them as forming a triangle with the theme as the base.
As in other writing, whether books, articles, or stories, form a focus sentence before you begin. This is the glue that holds the entire story together. The structure will be different for fiction than for nonfiction. Also, write a rough outline. This may change as the story unfolds, but you need to have a plan in mind even though this may change.