We all love a good story. How often have we started a book that we couldn’t put down? Or watched a serial on the television that we wished would not end? That is what a good story does, ensnares us and keeps us hooked long after we’re done with it.
So what makes a good story? How do we write a winner?
1. To start with – exactly that, the starting! A story that pulls readers into the plot right away is more likely to induce them to turn the pages and keep reading.
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having
nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’ ”
I find Lewis Carroll’s first paragraph perfect! It starts right away with a crisis, something that seems likely to impact Alice’s life and change it for good or for bad. I couldn’t wait to read on, to discover what Alice would do as a result of her boredom; I also wondered about the book “without pictures or conversation”.
And that leads me to the next two important things to keep in mind when you’re trying to write a book-with-a-difference: Pictures and Conversation.
2. Although Alice probably wanted the book to have pictures in the sense of images, I’m going to take creative liberty here. I am talking about the necessity of using words to paint pictures in our stories. When authors show rather than tell, they are painting pictures in their books. Take a look at the following two examples, one of which I used in my book ‘Scorched by His Fire’ (Harlequin® India, February 2014):
Example 1: Mita was furiously angry. Sammy walked her to his car so she could escape whatever was irritating her.
Example 2: Sammy looked down at Mita’s flushed face, at the angry tears that threatened, and immediately turned about, pushing her out of the door and straight into his car.
The first example is telling, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. The second, showing, allows readers to interpret, in their own way, the picture that is drawn with the author’s words. Showing actively engages the reader and keeps interest alive.
3. The other element, the absense of which Alice lamented, is conversation. To create impact, dialogues between protagonists should be meaningful. Winning stories are those where the authors use dialogue to tell you more about the protagonists’ conflicts and difficulties, or about their relationships. The conversation should not be a bland exchange of dialogue, or simply a means to provide facts to the reader. You will find that you get better at writing meaningful dialogues as you continue to write. It also helps to read the works of authors that you admire. Carefully observe how they use conversation to advantage.
Here is an example from another favorite author, PG Wodehouse:
“Jeeves,” I said that evening. “I’m getting a check suit like that one of Mr. Byng’s.”
“Injudicious, sir,” he said firmly. “It will not become you.”
“What absolute rot! It’s the soundest thing I’ve struck for years.”
“Unsuitable for you, sir.”
This dialogue from ‘My Man Jeeves’ shows several things: the conflict, that is the difference of opinion over the check suit; the characters of the two main protagonists: Bertie passionate, Jeeves indomitable and unflappable; and, it sets the tone for the rest of the story, wherein Bertie obdurately buys the check suit but, right up to the end, never gets to wear it because “Jeeves is always right.”
4. If you can make your characters believable, your story is a winner right away. The perfect character cannot be immaculate or unblemished since no human being is perfect; we know that. Your characters should be someone readers can find something in common with; someone that reminds them of real people they know, maybe even their own selves. Your main characters, therefore, should have flaws, or a secret, just like real people have; they should feel fear, pain, happiness.
Tanay, the hero in my debut story, is handsome and tall and rich, but he is suspicious and punishing; Mita, my beautiful, impetuous heroine, frequently gets into trouble because she lets her emotions rule over her head. Having characters with foibles allows the author to exploit their weaknesses and generate conflict. That works out really well because conflict, complete with climax and resolution, is the backbone of a winning story.
5. Finally, a winning story is a story that you, the author, love to tell. Don’t try to write a story in a genre that is popular, and likely to sell, but one that you do not yourself enjoy. You can only write a winning story if it comes from your soul. Your story will move the reader, get imprinted in her heart, make her laugh or cry, only if it came from the very heart of you.
So go ahead, dear authors, write for the love of it!
Also, do read ‘Scorched by His Fire’ for I have written it from my heart, and from my soul, and I hope you notice!