I think the unwritten rule about a good story is to actually not tell the story- but to show it. That sounds paradoxical, right? What it simply means is that you allow people, readers and audience, get their own stories. All you need to do is narrate what exactly happened, the mind of your reader will conceive the rest.
Writing stories is all about imagination. It all happens in the head- this is where movies are different. For movies, your eyes can see it all happening on the TV screen. In a story written or told, the scenes, the costumes, the sound effects, the acts, the setting, everything is conjured up by the mind of the reader. The writer is just the helper. He would have done his job excellently if he only takes the reader to the exact point where he can picture the story on his own.
In clearer, unambiguous terms, a good writer of stories must ‘show’ not ‘tell’. For example, consider how two different writers conveyed the same message in their stories:
Writer A: He shouted at him, stood up and left the room angrily.
Writer B: He stood up abruptly and turned away from him with his head repeatedly shaking from east to west. ‘What nonsense!’ He spat the words out and followed them with a long and shrill hiss. And then, with the speed of a wind, he covered the distance to the door in two quick and wide steps.
The two writers, A and B, have both said the same thing, they have passed the same message but I certainly know who your preferred writer is.
Writer A went straight to the point and wrote what he wanted the reader to know.
Writer B described what he ‘saw’ and left you with the job of making your obvious conclusions.
While writer A managed words and ‘helped’ the reader get straight to the point, writer B painted the picture in your mind so you can see what he sees yourself. A writer doesn’t go straight to the point. That is why he is a writer, and not a speaker or boss issuing a command.
Dear aspiring writer or accomplished writer who wants to get better, there you have it; the first and most important spicing required in a story: SHOW; Don’t TELL. This is the salt of a story; which determines the overall taste. As a meal would never be sweet enough with just the salt, there are other spices, requirements that a story must possess. I will highlight them below.
In this fast-paced world and in the face of so many written materials or posts calling for the readers’ attention, the writer who gets listened to or read is the one that can seize the reader with the first sentence or paragraph.
The human mind is always partial to sensational statements and screaming headlines. We just want to know how it happened, who it happened to and how it ended. This thirst to get to the root of the matter is what a writer must use to get the reader hooked and make him to read on even if he has other ‘pressing’ things to attend to. Once the opening sentence is drab, usual or common, the reader scrolls down and on to the next story.
‘I’d rather kill myself than attend your church!’ She shouted at her father.
If the first line of a story goes thus, it is most unlikely that anyone would refuse to know more.
Why? Because it is sensational.
2. Bring Alive:
A writer should make the story real by using places or events the readers can relate with in order to give the piece a semblance of reality and make the reader become more interested.
Readers know they are most probably reading a fiction but you don’t have to make it so obvious by using grand and unbelievable storyline and events. That is a childish way of telling stories and many a reader would likely switch off and move on. Make the story real and relatable to the reader- let him be able to insert himself into the events and live the story.
– ‘It actually happened just after the last Presidential election. I remember the day because I had just finished listening to the congratulatory message of the former President to the incumbent when he knocked on my door.’
Most readers will feel the story is real because they also probably remember the historic day.
When we were younger, most of the stories that came to our heads and minds were about a man marrying a woman and giving birth. Or a brilliant but indigent student obtaining a scholarship to study. These classic and overused storyline might not sell anymore today because almost everyone can write such stories.
When a writer sets his pen on paper, he must be ready to take his readers through a world filled with new ideas, new things and new situations that will keep the reader glued and interested. You must break through the barrier of mental laziness that just wants the normal and usual stories retold.
This method of storytelling was used repeatedly by Jesus Christ of Nazareth while he taught lessons on Mount Olive or elsewhere- and it still remains useful till date. Parables are a way of showing people a mirror and believing they will see a reflection if only they look.
You tell people a certain story that has little to do with the point you are trying to make, but by the time they get to the end, the readers drop the story and begin to think deeply. Many things that are common in our natural environment today are perfect depictions of faith, goodness and strength.
E.g; The rain stopped and electricity was restored almost immediately. I plugged my phone with battery already critically low. I left my phone to charge for three hours and I was glad, like everyone else, that there was electric power.
When the allotted three hours of uninterrupted power supply was ended and darkness returned, I gladly went back to check my phone. ‘Battery should be full by now.’ I thought. But to my surprise and dismay, my phone wasn’t charged at all. I only plugged the charger to the socket without knowing the charger did not quite connect to the phone…
The story above can be used as a parable to talk about a lot of topics, one of them being the empty salvation of Pharisees who always thought they were descendants of Abraham, and therefore, children of God.
All the four above discussed points are most necessary spices for good writing.
Other tips include,
-Be direct and clear with your final message. It must be stated at the end of the story or the essay. You must answer the question, ‘What do you intend to achieve? In once sentence, what do you want us to note?’
-You don’t have to be serious. Just because you want to deliver a strong message, you don’t have to write a serious preamble as story. Lessons of life abide everywhere if we could just look closely enough.
-Spacing and spaces have great importance. As you notice in this write-up, I used a lot of spaces. It makes the work more attractive to read than clumping all your sentences together. You may also want to note that when writing on internet, an empty line of space serves as a paragraph.
-Comments can be used to explain further. No matter how well you write, you may find that you have some ideas that you didn’t emphasize in the main writing. Don’t worry; comments can be used to expand thoughts and explain further or even answer questions.
-Having spoken so much about how to actually write; it is important for me to advice against the devil of procrastination. Always pushing your writing forwards into the future. It is one sure way to kill imagination and bury good ideas.
-On a final note, I also want to mention that spelling errors are always a sure way to repel brilliant minds from your writing. We are human and we all make mistakes but when there are so many errors in grammar and spelling, most people will cringe and hesitate to continue reading.
“Am is different from I’m.
Lose is different from loose.
We’re is different from were.”
This is why proofreading is of great necessity.
I feel I have sufficiently described the spices that make writing more interesting and also things that may poison your story. As you continue to write, I wish you a greater audience, an excellent skill, a brilliant mind and a rewarding future in writing.
-Victor James Wahab
Victor James Wahab is a Christian, blogger, teacher, public speaker and writer who has written numerous stories that revolve around God, love and good living. He has a Masters Degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria. His new e-book ‘When Christians Fall in Love’ is still on sale; and he can be reached on 09028697798 or through email, firstname.lastname@example.org