How to Write a Story


  • Here’s how you create a setting:

    One hour before nightfall, on a pink-and-blue evening in the third week of August, 2011 …

    Here’s how you create a character:

    a solitary man traveling on foot …

    Here’s how you introduce a situation:

    entered the small, tree-shadowed town of Clifton — an isolated village about which many rumors circulated.

    Here’s how you introduce tension:

    Several people from their windows and doors eyed the traveler with suspicion …

    Here’s how you heighten that tension and begin your plot:

    and yet one, a woman upon her doorstep, who had never laid eyes on the traveler before today, felt an icicle skewer her heart the instant she saw him — and saw also the strange and unmistakable key he wore on a chain around his neck.

    Here’s how you further develop your character:

    The traveler was a man of medium height, lean and lithe, thirty or perhaps thirty-five. He had wheat-colored hair cut high-and-tight, and there was in his posture a certain military mien, an excess of energy which set him apart.

    Here’s how you further set your scene:

    The day was dying. Wind went warmly about the grass. The village was silent.

    Here’s how you introduce foreshadowing:

    He passed by a small cinema the lights of which shed a crimson sheen over his hands and face.

    Here’s how you introduce a new character, a potential conflict, a new paragraph:

    Among those watching him was a strong-looking young man, alone and hatless, who stood half-hidden with the statuary, in the black shadows of the conifer trees. He and the traveler looked in some way alike, yet the man in the shadows was younger, and his face was charged with suffering.

    Here’s how you intensify your plot and introduce dialogue:

    Quickly the woman left her doorstep and, with a tremor of intent, approached the traveler.

    “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

    Here’s how you develop your main character through dialogue:

    “Yes,” he said.

    Here’s how you intensify your situation again and at the same time give the reader an idea of your novel’s theme (which in this abbreviated example is: superstition in an insular and cultic society):

    At last her eyes went to the strange-looking key that he wore around his neck. She’d been avoiding it, but now that her eyes were upon it, she couldn’t look away. The key was very beautiful, entirely real, modern and yet somehow science-fictional, not at all as she’d been told. In its silver glint, she caught a quick reflection of the stone gargoyle perched on the building behind them. Her heart paused and then released a thunderous beat. A rill of sweat slid between her breasts. Unexpectedly, she felt a sexual surge shoot through her.

    Here’s how you raise tension through dialogue:

    “Time is running short,” she said. “Come with me.”

    Here’s how you further develop your plot:

    She said no more after that but turned and walked toward the cinema that stood burning with a hellish glow in the August twilight. The traveler followed.

    She hadn’t noticed the man watching from the shadows.

    But the traveler had recognized him instantly….





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The sawed-off shotgun of literary pulp.

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