by Kellee Kranendonk
While reviewing Kellee’s articles that previous appeared in Silver Blade, I found this one for a perfect follow-up to my “From Idea to Story” series because writing the story is only half the battle. Assuming you didn’t write the story purely for the fun of it, your next step is to attempt to sell your story to a magazine. Kellee is the editor for Youth Imagination magazine. Her article will give you some tips for crafting a good story as well as marketable one.
You might want to look at her points to see if you think “Jury Duty” measures up. I won’t be hurt if you don’t think it does. It was just an example. I may or may not ever submit it for publication.
NOTE: Kellee is Canadian, so those spaced hyphens in place of dashes and commas outside the quote marks are Canadian/UK punctuation style and not the result of poor editing on her part or mine.
Anyone can write a story. But not everyone can write a good story, a marketable story. So what makes a story good enough to be marketable? That depends a lot on the person reading it. People have different tastes. You might be a baseball fan and not have a clue what hockey’s all about. Me, I’m all about hockey and couldn’t care less about baseball. It’s like that with stories as well. What one editor rejects, another will like. Most stories are rejected time and again before being accepted. Although possible (and it’s happened to me), a story is not often accepted on its first time out. The important thing is that you create a marketable story.
POINTS FOR WRITING A GOOD STORY
(1) Your beginning needs to draw the readers in. You shouldn’t start with a history lesson or details. Those things can be included in later parts of your story. You need to start as close as you can to the time when everything changes or the problem begins for your main character.
(2) Your main character needs a challenge. Nobody wants to sit around watching hair grow, unless it’s rapid-growing, day-glo hair. And the challenge is how to make it stop. If you’ve written an exciting beginning, chances are you’ve already created that challenge.
(3) Your story needs to be believable. This doesn’t mean every world needs to be a cardboard cut-out of Earth. But every world has rules, even if the only rule is that there are no rules. Whatever situation/problem you’ve created for your character, it needs to be dealt with in a believable way. An alien with no tear ducts can’t cry so don’t have her crying in chapter 2. If your character is a human from good old Earth, make sure that if his car gets smashed, you don’t have him walking away saying “Oh well.”
(4) Every scene needs to move the story forward, even flashbacks. While flashbacks take place in the past, our pasts affect our futures. You know the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun”, and you know how kids hate to leave the playground for supper? That’s the kind of story you want to write. If you got out of bed, had ice cream for breakfast, then watched TV all day long, it might feel like the day was dragging on and on and on. But, if you got out of bed, scrambled some eggs for breakfast, then went to meet a friend you haven’t seen in years, the day would be over before you knew it. It’s the same with your story. You want your readers to feel like that kid on the playground, and they won’t if nothing is happening there.
(5) Long passages need to be broken up to give your story balance. A story needs a blend of speech, thought, description, and action. Water, vegetables, meat, and seasonings all make soup, but not on their own. Break up a long conversation with your character’s thoughts. Add an action to your tag line. Use description to move your story along: Whitecaps splashed against the side of Bart’s ship as the sun beat down on his balding head. The wind billowed his black sails, pushing the vessel along.
(6) Your story needs to offer something new to readers. I know you’ve probably heard it before — there are no new ideas. But there are new twists. A lot has been done with old ideas — people rewrite fairy tales or classic stories to update them, suit the times — but no one can write the exact same story as you. What if Snow White had met ogres or painters instead of dwarves? What if Alice had painted the roses black instead of red? What if Huck Finn had a little sister? But remember you can’t steal anyone else’s characters, claim them as your own. You can create your own unique versions of characters like vampires, fairies, or dragons. There used to be a TV show about a vampire who could walk in broad daylight. Vampires are old characters, but the new twist was one who could walk in the sun.
(7) All loose ends need to be tied up, all questions answered. Whatever problem you gave your character needs to be solved, and your character needs to have learned from it. This change doesn’t necessarily need to be rainbows and butterflies. Maybe your character has learned that he can’t make a living by stealing as he’s hauled off to spend a few years in jail. Remember that vampire in the previous paragraph? Although I don’t recall the reason he was able to walk in the sun, it was explained. And you need to explain your twist as well. It can be as simple as: On planet Aileron, dragons don’t have wings. Most readers will be able to accept that you’ve created a wingless dragon as long as the world you’ve put her in is suitable. Or you can make it a little more complex (but don’t make it so complicated that you lose the reader): Thousands of years ago, Aileron was covered in water and dragons had wings. But as the water receded and dry land appeared, dragons needed their wings less and less. Eventually the dragons adapted and evolved into creatures with no wings.
In short you need to create a problem, solve a problem, and in between make every exciting word count in a believable way. Now you have a marketable story.