The first rule in writing your story: Don’t ask yourself “Do I have something to say?” Ask instead: “Do my characters have something to say?”
In Hemingway’s ‘Hills like white elephants” (about a man persuading his girlfriend to have an abortion she doesn’t want) – he could have made grandiose statements about morality, maturity, selfishness, sexual responsibility etc. Instead, he sticks to the tiny sounds, signals and pauses which people in intimate situations send to each other. e.g. “I’ll go with you and stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s perfectly natural.”
“Then what will we do afterwards?”
“We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.”
“What makes you think so?”
“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.”
The story takes place between the lines, in the silences between the characters. Action can be speech. Action can also be silence – the silence that punctuates speech.
If you have created characters you want to use, and have decided on the setting and the period, but are stuck for the plot, one idea is to take familiar trends, ideas and situations and simply reverse them. “Visit to a Small Planet” by Gore Vidal reverses feeling that people from other planets are inferior, showing “visitor” far more intellectually advanced. “Paths of Glory” reverses admiration for military efficiency. “Bad Seed” reverses romantic concept of children as innocent darlings.
“Teahouse of the August Moon” (Vern Sneider) – civilised, sophisticated Americans occupying primitive Okinawa, learn more from natives than they teach them. In Sloan Wilson’s “A Summer PLace” , the adults are the delinquents, while the teenagers are stable, moral and mature.
There are no real rules in writing your story, none that is, that cannot be disregarded when the circumstances demand it. But here are some do’s and don’ts that may prove helpful:
Study stories published in recent issues of your favorite magazine.
Sketch main characters that come to life.
“Hook” the reader with attention-snatching opening.
Introduce action immediately – physical or psychological. Maintain suspense so that the reader cannot guess the exact ending.
Stay in one viewpoint throughout. The protagonist must solve his own problem through characterization that is clear to the reader from the outset.
Now for some Don’ts. Don’t be condescending or write down to the reader. Don’t be too intellectual or philosophical in theme, style or content. Don’t narrate when you can dramatize in-action scenes with dialogue or emotion. Don’t write frustrating or inconclusive endings.
Here’s an exercise to practise writing dialogue: “They sat in the hotel room, perspiring in its airlessness, staring at his packed suitcase which lay on the bed.” Force your two characters to talk to each other. Try not to use adverbs such as “he said sadly; she replied angrily”. Their actual words should convey the emotions they are feeling.
Read your words out loud to see if they sound the way people actually talk.
Happy writing! Remember you can buy my new novella “Searching for Sarah” through Amazon, from the publisher email@example.com or direct from me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’m always happy to hear your comments or help if you have a query.