Writing styles are affected by various attributes such as genre, time and culture settings, social backgrounds, personalities of the characters, and the mood of a scene. Fiction offers a distilled representation of the ways in which writers are among the most significant touchstones in another’s life. However, as much as a writer may have the zest and passion to write, there is always that time in the day when she or he asks “is this story any good?”
Today’s post is dedicated to those writers that could use a bit of push in the right direction. The rubric below may help you get back your confidence. Getting opinions are helpful, but self-guided direction may be the first step to improving your story.
Directions: Reread your story. What do you need to do to make it better? Use this rubric to help you decide. Check the sentences that describe your story.
The beginning makes my audience want to read more. It introduces the characters, the setting, and the problem.
The middle shows how the characters deal with the problem.
All of the events are in order and are important to the story.
The ending shows how the problem works out.
Details make the story come alive!
My characters have a voice, and the story sounds the way I wanted.
There are almost no mistakes in capitalization, punctuation, or spelling.
The beginning could be more interesting.
I haven’t told how the characters deal with the problem.
I forgot to include some important events.
The story doesn’t sound finished.
Details need to show, not tell, about the characters, events, and setting.
My story doesn’t sound the way I wanted.
There are a few mistakes.
Back to the drawing board
The beginning is boring.
There is no clear problem.
The story is confusing. Important events are left out.
The ending just stops. How does the problem work out?
Where can I add details?
My story is written in a dull, flat voice.
There are a lot of mistakes.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life had a rubric…but then perhaps it would be boring!
Regardless if you are an avid reader with several books piled upon the nightstand, a casual reader of magazines that you scan while patiently (or impatiently) sit in the waiting room of the dentist, or the week-end “I have such little time” reader; there is likely to be a favorite title that left an impression upon you somewhere tucked away from the past. For if the author has caught your attention and hooked you through to the very final page… your literary experience may have endured a positive influence upon you.
Positioning a book on your favorite list may have occurred because of the writer’s style; maybe it was because of a particular character that reminded you of yourself or even someone you wished to be like, and then there is the plot…the story –line that kept you on the very edge of your seat or ushered you away on an unforgettable journey. Regardless of the reason, books placed on a pedestal are meant to be shared and there is nothing more satisfying then ruminating over a good story with someone else that has enjoyed the same book.
Most of us have many “favorite” titles… for similar to ice cream… there are numerous flavors that are quite satisfying. It reminds me of an analogy … ‘ice cream is to mystery as chocolate is to genre’ …the relationship phrase here is “type”. In view of the fact that we often have ‘favorites’ that cross over into different genres or “types” of books; one has to wonder then what were the favorite titles of some of our great writers. For their taste would most likely not be “plain vanilla” but rather a scoop that was laced with other delicacies …perhaps “rocky road” or “vanilla fudge swirl”. But then, maybe not….
On that delicious note I bring us back to our esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author of celebrated novels and poetry that graced so many of our shelves. Mr. Stevenson was also a distinguished essayist, whereby I have extracted a small portion from his Essays in The Art of Writing and placed it on today’s blog. Steal a moment’s pause out of your hectic day for some words by from our famed writer…
“….The most influential books, and the truest in their influence, are works of fiction. They do not pin the reader to a dogma, which he must afterwards discover to be inexact; they do not teach him a lesson, which he must afterwards unlearn. They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage us from ourselves, they constrain us to the acquaintance of others; and they show us the web of experience, not as we can see it for ourselves, but with a singular change—that monstrous, consuming ego of ours being, for the nonce, struck out. To be so, they must be reasonably true to the human comedy; and any work that is so serves the turn of instruction. But the course of our education is answered best by those poems and romances where we breathe a magnanimous atmosphere of thought and meet generous and pious characters. Shakespeare has served me best. Few living friends have had upon me an influence so strong for good as Hamlet or Rosalind… Perhaps my dearest and best friend outside of Shakespeare is D’Artagnan—the elderly D’Artagnan of the Vicomte de Bragelonne. I know not a more human soul, nor, in his way, a finer; I shall be very sorry for the man who is so much of a pedant in morals that he cannot learn from the Captain of Musketeers. Lastly, I must name the Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that breathes of every beautiful and valuable emotion…”
Being succinct is often more difficult than being lofty. This is the realm of the short story writer; for the task of such an author is to come full circle; to satiate with a satisfying balance of beginning, middle, and end… all the while maintaining a full and open throttle…driving the plot in a degree that it sustains the interest of the reader while not diverging off course. Take no side trips, no matter how lovely a place they could lead you, for the short story is like the plane on a scheduled fight…we don’t wish the pilot to deviate from the flight plan.
And so I must confess that this blogger likes to read and write the short story even though it sometimes appears to have lost its momentum in the 21st century… yet I maintain that it is still alive and kicking…you just have to go into the gardens and weed them out…
Which brings us to today’s post where a path was cleared away again for our esteemed thinker: William Carlos Williams; poet, writer and defender of the modern literature and art movement in the 20th century. From his notes so aptly titled A Beginning on the Short Story, I have plucked from his writing a portion for us to ponder. I give you, Mr. Williams and the short story…
“… One chief advantage as against a novel- which is its nearest cousin-is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel on writing a short story and so may dwell on the manner, the writing. On the process itself. A single stroke, uncomplicated but complete. Not like a chapter or paragraph. Thus bearing a possible novel in mind, if you will, you can play with words as materials. You can try various modes of writing-more freely.Try all sorts of effects. The short story is a wonderful medium for prose experimentation. You may, economically try devices- varied devices-for making the word count toward a particular effect. … And be careful not to imitate yourself-like how many others. Remember: the imagination! The short story has all the elements of a larger work-but in petto. Dash off a story in an evening- any old way, try to follow the action of some characters you can imagine. Sit down blind and start to fling the words around like pigments-try to see what nature would do under the same circumstances –let ’em go and (without thinking or caring) see where they’ll lead you. You may be surprised-you may even end up as a disciplined writer…”
Writing is not something you have to do, but rather something that stirs and courses about so- much- so that you have a yearning to release it… much like a firefly in a jar buzzing around, hitting the sides…all lit up flitting up and down… so pretty to look at but we know it must be set free. Writing is not something you talk about doing but rather you just do because it feels right.
And as a writer one is an observer… taking note of this or that… things that are ordinary, but presented in an often unordinary way. And then you store them up and at the right time, they (these observations) are liberated not unlike our firefly. Perhaps this is how we feed our imaginations.
And so today I bring back our Esteemed Thinker: Ray Bradbury during his early years as a young writer (1938). Let us take a few moments to admire his youthful intuition as an observer….
“I am not the keen plotter of life. That will come later, too, I hope. But instead I love the small description, the things we all notice, but never notice, the things, the minute from and the beauty of things that are stored in the subconscious and only conjured forth infrequently in life. These things must I write about.”
There is something very daunting when you enter a library; we are absorbed by the immediate sense of quiet, the cerebral, and an appreciation of timelessness. For those who are readers, writers, and book lovers, it is analogous to a child being let loose in a toy store…where one may choose not one but often as many as 20 items for free. The only caveat is that you must return them. But alas, that seems quite fair.
The library for me is a wonderland; however it is a place that I worry about. Once frequented, many are passed up, some say out-dated…and for others an inconvenient way to find a book. Nevertheless, those of you who have not visited one in awhile drop by and window shop…meander around the shelves … it is like a stroll along the beach where footsteps were forever left behind, only here there are books.
In today’s blog I invite you to revisit the library with the esteemed thinker: Ray Bradbury, (1920-2012) an American writer especially renowned for his work in the genre of science fiction. Bradbury’s career as an author started when he was a child and spanned for over 70 years. His reputation was clenched with his collection of books in 1950 titled under The Martian Chronicles.
Now, let us steal a moment for one of our iconic writers of the 20th century; here are his words from the biography Becoming Ray Bradbury (2011)… enjoy his unique analogy …
“The library was the great watering place where animals, large and small, came from the night to drink and smile at each other across the green-glass-shadowed glades between the book-mountains. So here you were gamboling on spring nights like lambs, lolling like warm trout in winy springs on summer nights, racing the curled mice-leaves on autumn nights, always to the same Monday place, the same Monday building. You ran, you dawdled, you flew, but you got there. And there was always that special moment when, at the big doors, you paused before you opened them out and went in among all those lives, in among all those whispers of old voices so high an so quiet it would take a dog, trotting between the stacks, to hear them. And trot you did.”