Three More Points about Story Craft

hourglassWriting a story takes skill, time, and work ethic. Here are three more strategies to apply to your work in progress.

1. Gather verbs

Verbs are action words and action is story. This one is so simple but it can’t be overlooked. Figure out exactly how your characters do everything they do and use the word, the single most perfect word, that describes just what that is. Render each action succinctly and accurately.

There’s always more than one way to write a sentence. Get a book of clichés so you know what has already been used and scrape all of them out of your story. He’s chomping at the bit was a great sentence with an action verb at its core when first written a million years ago. Gronk’s fans loved it.

Use your thesaurus carefully. Every word listed as a potential synonym is also a potential drop into the language sinkhole. Open the page of any thesaurus and choose a word.  How many of its attributed synonyms do you really know? If any poke awkwardly in your mouth, spit them out. Find another. The wrong word can turn a gripping mystery into a joke. If you don’t really know what the alternate word means or precisely how to use it, don’t.

Write the one sentence that provides the most sensory, physical but unique experience possible. The thrill your reader gets will make her turn the page, page after page.  Write the next sentence just as well. The craft of writing is in the construction of words into sentences and those into story. Verbs are the most important kinds of words at your disposal. Scuttle, cringe, bustle, gawk, flounder, prickle, notch, chasten, scorch – we react at the sounds of these words. Understand every verb intimately and get lots of outstanding ones into your book.

You know what the director said: Lights, camera, action! Yes, another cliché. Gronk’s fans loved this one too.

2. Try out your acting chops

Nothing helps an author sense the drama and intrigue of her story better than reading it aloud. You shout, whisper, cry, jump, and cringe at the words on your page. You wipe away tears, laugh out loud, and snort in derision. You wish the protagonist had more common sense and the antagonist had some decency. You try accents, speed, volume, and you hear the poetry, the power, the flow. Words repeated repeatedly are exposed so you can delete them. (Got that, didn’t you?) You catch the words are that out place of and the rung words that you meant two right – the stupid things we all do that Spell-Check didn’t catch. (Got that too, didn’t you?)

Most importantly, you will hear how consistent your characters sound, whether or not they speak in their own vernacular or have borrowed another voice. You’ll sense awkward scene shifts and unintended changes in points of view. You’ll spot what’s missing in action and what’s excess verbiage. Reading out loud especially while gesturing points out problems and skill like nothing else. And I have to admit: it’s pretty funny to see my husband’s reactions when I’m so engaged. Even Gronk guffaws to hear me and he doesn’t speak English.

Read your story out loud and you’ll know the drama, humor, and success of your creation.

3. Give it time

Let it ferment for a while. Ever try making beer? Bathtub beer, as my son and daughter-in-law sometimes make, boutique beer as specialty breweries make, commercial beer like the name brand companies make –  it all has to ferment or it isn’t beer, it’s dirty dish water. Coffee percolates. Stew simmers. Bread dough rises. Everything takes time while it gathers essence and establishes desirable qualities. (And the fragrances – ah, intoxicating.)

Writing is much the same. Write your story, edit, revise, rewrite, and then let it sit. For a month or so, shift your completed book to an unopened folder while you work on something else. Maybe you’ll try making beer.

Over the month you’ll forget a bit of the details. You’ll forget on exactly what page the lovers first made whoopee, what was the speed of the train wreck, who stashed the knife in the parlor. Then read your story again, beginning to end. It will have a fresh smell and you’ll detect aspects you didn’t observe before. Did you write the story you meant to write? Does the plot progress and excite? Did you end it as intended? Are the loose ends wrapped? Did the hero react according to character and in consideration of all she has learned? Is the story arc consistent and complete? Is there resolution to the original quandary? In this less familiar state, you’ll figure out what needs to be addressed further or deleted altogether. Like adding more hops to beer, salt to stew, sesame seeds to bread dough. Like realizing coffee doesn’t need raisins. Gronk figured this one out.

No point tasting the beer till it’s fully brewed. No point presenting your story till it’s truly done.

Ahhh, now that’s good stuff.

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8 thoughts on “Three More Points about Story Craft

  1. Great suggestions. I like the term–‘gather verbs’. Haven’t heard that abefore.

  2. Great suggestions!

  3. This is great, Sharon. I love your words “if any poke awkwardly in your mouth, spit them out”. Wonderful! 😀

  4. And here I thought I might be using the thesaurus a little too much. I have one of the free online versions pinned to my desktop taskbar so that wherever I need a word that’s more appropriate, it’s just a click away.

    I liked this post, Sharon. 😀

  5. Thanks, Glynis. I love my huge hard back thesaurus. It’s an education just to look up a word – and learn 10 new ones.

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