Alison Goodman: My Top 5 Writing Tips for Classic Storytelling

Alison Goodman: My Top 5 Writing Tips for Classic Storytelling

1. Every writer rewrites. The first thing that comes out of your mind may be good, but it is not finished. That initial, wonderful rush of ideas is a great start, but the real work is in crafting all that excitement and energy into a meaningful emotional journey for the reader. So, take the time to read over your work – preferably aloud – and listen to the way it flows. Need more breath? Maybe you need more punctuation. Stumbling over a word? Perhaps it’s not needed, or is placed incorrectly. When you are on a redraft, think about how every line fits together in that forward motion towards the protagonist’s moment of irrevocable change at the end of the story.

2. Build your story in a series of scenes. The scene is the building block of story and is one of the most important structural elements to master. Each scene is like a mini drama: an opening sequence that builds to a climax and then ends with a hook into the next scene. Some change within the story or within your protagonist should happen in every scene. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, but make something happen!

3. Conflict is essential in a story. Conflict is the engine of your story; it drives it forward. There are three types of conflict that your protagonist can encounter. First, conflict within themself (ethics, morals, desires). Second, conflict with other characters (family, friends, lovers, enemies). Third, conflict with outside forces (environment, institutions, society). Build the obstacles that your protagonist encounters from these three levels of conflict.

4. Create complex characters. This is one way I create complex characters. Think of at least three important events that have happened in your character’s past. They can be good or bad, but they have to be significant. These are the portals through which you look when you are planning a particular scene. For instance, in The Dark Days Club, my protagonist, Lady Helen, lost both her parents when she was ten. They drowned on a yachting trip and their bodies were never found. So out of that comes a whole slew of character traits and information, all based on what I imagine would be the psychological consequences of that event. For example, the loss makes Helen feel a sense of abandonment, it has made the idea of family very important to her, and she has grown up to be quite cautious. When it comes time to writing a scene that has a link to family – perhaps between Helen and her brother – then some of those traits would come into play. I focus the scene through that “Family/Loss” portal. It provides a base line from which to build the character’s responses, and because these are fixed events in the character’s life they provide cohesiveness to the overall characterization.

5. Read as widely as you can. Read good stuff, mediocre stuff and the stuff that makes you groan. Read it all with the eyes of a writer. Note when the writing is making you feel sad, or delighted or tense. Look closely and find the techniques that the writer is using to create emotion and then use them yourself to create your own emotional journey for your reader.

And above all, keep writing!

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