I loved the beginning of Mikaela’s story, God is Now Here, and couldn’t wait for her to write more. Now that she has, I’m happy to share it here. Mikaela has done an excellent job of showing us her characters through their actions and dialogue. She’s revised Chapter One and made it even stronger. She’s continued the story with strong details, descriptions and dialogue. Her main character’s motivation to change is realistic and told well. This is a truly inspirational story. Well done, Mikaela!
Posts tagged ‘effective writing’
Yesterday I wrote about where story ideas come from. You can read it here. I also promised a real-life example, so here it is.
A real-life example
The idea for Swept Up first occurred to me when my daughter came home from a field trip to BizTown. BizTown is this big building used by our local Junior Achievement. They’ve decorated the inside to look like a real town. It has everything – stores, factories, a city hall, even a cafeteria. Students spend the whole day at BizTown, doing the types of jobs they might have when they grow up – like working at a bank or delivering mail. My daughter managed the Exercise Center and she had a fantastic time. I liked the idea of kids getting to run everything for an entire day. I thought it would make a great story.
The problem was I was in the mood to write something a bit scary and extremely troubling to the characters. So I needed to turn this really fun field trip into an awful situation. To do that, I started asking myself “what if?”
It went something like this:
What if, for some reason, the teacher gets called away? What if, after awhile, the kids notice that not only is the door she went through locked, but all the doors are locked? What if it gets later and later and the teacher doesn’t come back? What if the kids call for help but no one comes? What if, after spending the whole night locked inside this fake town, some of the kids start acting like they belong there and no longer want to leave? And to make things even worse, what if there are strange, frightening noises outside and then the walls start coming down?
Well, I don’t know about you but that was enough to creep me out. Then came the hard part. Because for every “what if,” I needed a “why.” Why would the teacher leave? Why are the doors locked? Why doesn’t anyone come? Why are some of the kids acting like they belong there? Why are they hearing strange noises and why, oh why is the building falling apart?
That’s a lot of why’s. And it took me a long time to come up with answers that made sense.
It’s actually a lot of fun. Just pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Be on the look-out for story ideas and don’t expect these ideas to be too much of anything at first. Be willing to play with them a little. If you ask yourself enough “what ifs” and answer them all with reasonable “why’s”, your thoughts and feelings will not only lead to a story idea but a full-blown story.
Coming up with a story idea is not nearly as hard as you might think. The trick is recognizing the idea when it shows up, grabbing it before it leaves, and then knowing what to do with it.
Ideas are all around you
Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by story ideas all the time – things that happen to you or to your friends, things you hear about or see on TV, things you think about when you’re bored or worried or not paying attention to whatever you’re supposed to be paying attention to. All of these things cause you to think. They also cause you to feel. These thoughts and feelings can lead you to a great story idea.
Don’t let them get away
The first step is noticing the thoughts and feelings that flit through your mind. They’re there, all the time, one after another. But thoughts and feelings come and go with lightning speed and are quickly forgotten. To keep this from happening, take a few minutes to list whatever’s in your mind. Once you get used to writing down your thoughts and feelings, you’ll find that practically every moment you’re awake could lead to a story. The key here is not to expect too much too soon. Most ideas won’t come at you all ready to go. It’s going to take a little more thought.
Make them bigger, better, more
Next, figure out what you’re in the mood to write. Something scary? Funny? Exciting? Troubling? Pick something from your list of thoughts and feelings that matches your mood. Then, ask yourself the most magical question of all time: What if? What if this happened or what if that happened? Would it make the idea scarier, funnier, more exciting or more troubling? Yes? Then write it down. Keep thinking. What could happen next that would make what you’ve just imagined bigger, better, more? (Tip: It helps to pace while you’re doing this. Or jog. Or walk your dog, if you have one.) Keep going until you’re so excited about the idea that you just can’t wait to write it all down. (I know my idea’s ready when my hands start to itch and I start yanking out drawers in a frantic attempt to find a pen or pencil.)
Make sure your idea makes sense
You’re getting there but you’re not quite done, not yet. Because with every “what if” you come up with, you also have to answer “why.” What would cause whatever you’ve imagined to happen? (Another tip: You get extra points every time your “what if” makes things worse for your main character. You also get extra points every time your main character causes the worsening trouble to happen.)
Come back tomorrow for a real-life example.
There is something – actually lots of somethings – that make me cry every single time I read Mick Harte was Here. This was my fourth time. I really thought I’d get through it without a sniffle. But I didn’t. Not even close. Still, I have to say this is one of my all-time favorite books. It was written by Barbara Park – yep, the same Barbara Park who writes the Junie B. Jones books. The main character, Phoebe Harte, is older than Junie but still has that Junie B attitude that’ll make you smile and probably even laugh, even though the story is oh, so sad. Actually, that’s kind of what the book does – makes you smile through your tears. So, if you’re looking for a great example of how to make readers feel things with your stories, I highly recommend reading this book. Also, it’s a great example of a title doing everything it should. Because the title says it all. You’ll see what I mean if you read the book.
Have you read The Lost Hero? Rick Riordan uses a really cool trick to make sure you keep reading. He lets you experience the story through the thoughts and feelings of three main characters: Jason, Piper and Leo. He moves from character to character throughout the story but he makes sure that you’re always experiencing the story through the character who has the most to lose or gain. I stayed up way too late while I was reading it! I’m wondering if it had the same effect on you. If you’ve read it, leave a comment and let us know if you were as pulled in to the story as I was.