How to Write a Story: Writing Tips for Aspiring Writers

How to Write a Story

We all love reading stories. Stories have the power to transport us into a different world where we can live vicariously through the characters. The ability to wield such incredible power makes storytelling a really exciting field. Thinking about all the options that can be explored in a story makes it a really exciting process. However, the most important question that needs to be answered is, “where to begin?” When it comes to writing a story, all writers operate differently. If you ask a group of writers “how to write a story”, they might say that they work from beginning to end. `another group of writers might say that they work in segments which they piece together at the end. Then there are those who go from sentence to sentence.

Whether you’re writing a novel, novella, short story, or flash fiction, you should never be shy about experimenting with different voices and styles. Try your hand at different story writing techniques, story ideas, and story structures. A great tool for that process is the Dan Harmon Story Circle. It is a story structure divided into eight distinct parts following a protagonist’s journey. This was developed by Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon. The eight steps of this story circle follow the story’s protagonist’s journey beyond the realms of their usual surroundings (such as Bilbo Baggins’ Unexpected Journey in The Hobbit). As the circle closes back onto its starting point, the protagonist undergoes a stark change, whether the journey’s goal has been achieved or not. In this post, we will take a quick look at some critical tips to help you enhance your writing skills and eventually become a master storyteller.

How to Write a Story: Step by Step Guide

1. Select your setting

When it comes to storytelling, location is critical. It’s almost as important as a character so treat it as such, let it convey mood and allow it to reveal more of itself over time. If you create exciting locations, mundane scenes can be transformed into really exciting ones. Your enthusiasm will ooze through your writing and your characters will be more engaged with their surroundings. Location also provides some great inspiration for scenes and even dictates the way your story goes. All the pre-writing research will be very useful while creating your first draft. So select a good location (or create a fictional one) and weave it into your story.

2. Create memorable characters

You can’t separate characters from events. Any character’s personality will be shaped by the events happening around him/her. You might think of this as a distinction from films, where actors are cast into pre-existing roles. However, in a novel, a character continues to interact with events over a course of time. As a writer, you should learn about your character based on their interaction with the surrounding world. Your characters will have hobbies, pets, histories, ruminations, and obsessions, just like real people. You must understand and clarify these facets of the character’s personality so that it can dictate how they react when faced with different events.

3. Understand the two types of conflict

Both events and characters are critical to a story. A story is the result of an interruption in the pattern. If you write about a day that’s just like every other day, you are writing about a routine, and that’s not even remotely close to a story. For a story to be, well, a story, something must happen in it. This is also known as a plot. The key element of a plot is conflict. There are two types of conflict:

  1. Internal conflict (a threat from within)
  2. External conflict (a threat from outside)

Both create tension in a narrative and push the story forward. Conflict doesn’t just help with plot development, it also helps with character development. It can also add fantastic layers to your story. Your main character might face external conflicts in the shape of an alien invasion or an internal conflict such as alcoholism. Your plot will develop naturally if you give your character a motivation, then throw obstacles in her way.

Testing both conflicts before choosing one is a pragmatic idea. You can try writing a short story that uses both and then decide which one works best for your overall main story. The combination of events that you use for your plot must be compelling and significant enough to pull your readers into the story and make them wonder what happens next.

4. Put a twist in your plot

If a story stays predictable from start to finish, it isn’t going to be exciting. So you should boost the excitement levels of your story by infusing some twists, red herrings and cliffhangers.

  • Put at least two twists in your story, more if your story is long.  These help keep readers engaged, especially in the middle of your book when your plot might otherwise start to drag. One of the most challenging parts of storytelling is carrying readers through the middle section. You need to create enough excitement to make them turn the pages till the end.
  • You can trick your readers by planting false leads or “red herrings”. These are added with the purpose of misleading people and making it tougher for them to predict the ending. While adult mysteries are filled with carefully hidden clues, children’s horror novels should be packed with tricks to lead kids astray and thereby surprise them even more when something (like the true identity of a monster) is revealed.
  • Another great tool for keeping the readers’ interest up is the “cliffhanger”. It compels readers to turn the pages voraciously and find out what happens next. Some writers might feel it to be a “cheap trick” or an easy gimmick, but it works wonders. Do try to include a cliffhanger in your story.

5. Recreate Natural Dialogue

Real life conversations include a lot of “filler” words such as “like”, “ummm”, “yeahhh” etc. However, dialogues in a story need to be more selective and incisive. DIalogue is used to reveal what people want from one another, reveal character, and dramatize power struggles.

  • When your characters speak, ensure that they are trying to get something out of the conversation, or making a power play. Even seduction is a type of power play.
  • Whatever people think, isn’t usually what they say (some rare people do but most of them don’t). There is also a gap between what people understand and what they refuse to hear. These gaps are known as subtext, and they are extremely valuable to any fiction writer. Keep up with the character’s thoughts and let the thoughts generate drama in your scenes.
  • To get dialogue right, you must understand how your characters speak. This is likely influenced by where they come from, their social class, upbringing, and myriad other factors. 
  • Your characters’ speech patterns should also accurately use the idioms and speech patterns of that time period. If your story is set up in America during The Great Depression, it’s extremely unrealistic for the characters to use 80s slang like “gnarly”.

6. Articulate Voice Through Point of View

A great way to select the point of view strategy to use in your story is to simply ask: whose voice is telling the story? To whom are they telling it, and why? Some of the popular point of view strategies are:

  • First person point of view (“I”).
  • Third person limited point of view (“He” or “She”).
  • Third person omniscient point of view. In this scenario, a narrator who isn’t a character but knows more than what the characters know, relays the story’s events to the readers.
  • Second person point of view. This is based around the “you” pronoun but is hardly seen in novels. It can work with short stories though.

Once you select your point of view, you don’t have to be stuck with it for the entire story. You can change it at will, as long as the story doesn’t get convoluted or difficult to follow. 

How to write a story: Conclusion

So those were some of the easy steps with which you can write a good story. However, those steps are mere guidelines and not hard and fast rules of storytelling. You can always do it in your own way. Writing good stories isn’t just dependent on talent, it also needs a lot of time and practice from the writer. Just like athletes always practice to keep their skill levels high, great writers also do the same. Practice makes perfect after all. Just like everything else in life, the first time might be difficult, but it definitely gets better with practice. If you dream of seeing your stories published one day, you need to work steadily, stay focused on your goal and continuously work on developing your skill. If you were wondering “how to write a story”, now you know.

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