Learning to tell a good story is the most important element of writing aside from the ability to write well.
You could be the Shakespeare of the modern writing world, an eloquent wordsmith, but if you are a poor story-teller . . .
Off to obscurity you sadly go.
So how do you tell a good story?
Besides developing strong characters, an interesting plot and other aspects of creating a good story, there are elements that writers should consider to successfully tell a story.
That is, mechanical elements that can elevate (or lower) the scope of your book.
1.) Write a catchy first sentence
Just like a song, you have to grab the interest of your audience immediately.
Your first sentence can be the deciding factor that lands (or loses) a sale.
Someone is scanning the local bookstore for a new read. He/She has compiled a pile of books because of a catchy title or a colorful cover. So he/she sits down in the corner and opens your book.
Your first sentence reads He was a good man, a good man who slept with the wrong man’s wife.
He/She puts your book down and picks up the next choice: The Defector by Daniel Silva
Silva’s first sentence reads Pyotr Luzhkov was about to be killed, and for that he was grateful.
Your story might be just as riddled with gang-bangers, mafia hits, billion dollar heists and love affairs as The Defector, but because your first sentence didn’t initiate as much interest as Daniel Silva’s, you lost a sale.
2.) Create an engaging first chapter
Even if your first sentence isn’t a banger, some people will give you the benefit of the doubt because of that awesome cover design or creative title. They might keep reading and finish your first chapter.
But if your first chapter doesn’t hook your reader . . .
Now some readers (like myself) have this sick compulsion to finish every book that they open simply because they started reading it.
Unfortunately, these types of readers are in the minority.
So make sure to make your first chapter interesting, but also meaningful.
Your first chapter should:
– Introduce your protagonist or antagonist
– Set the scene for the plot
– Include an inciting incident (the action that propels the rest of the story) or the beginnings of the inciting incident
– Be engrossing
Now this can be a tall order.
Don’t let this stop you from writing the rest of your story.
You can always modify your writing in the editing stages.
3.) Write meaningful and engaging dialogue
Not only does dialogue enhance your characterization, it can propel your story (if done correctly).
If your dialogue is clunky and unnatural, you can slow down your story to an agonizing crawl.
Your characters should speak like people, not like characters.
(It can be helpful to take some time and people watch. Listen to the conversations of those around you and take notes.
Remember: this exercise is not so that you focus on what is being said, but how things are being said.)
The dialogue between your characters should also be important to the plot.
Don’t just add dialogue for the sake of dialogue.
Anything that your characters say should enlighten the reader to something significant.
Maybe the reader gets new insight about a character’s motives.
Maybe the character is introducing a conflict.
Maybe a scene of dialogue is there to showcase the close relationship between two characters.
Whatever is being said, should be said for a purpose.
4.) Use a variety of dialogue tags
Dialogue tags are phrases that you include to signify who spoke.
“Stop talking,” he said.
“Is that a book title?” she asked.
Unfortunately, many writers get into the habit of using the same dialogue tags over and over and over.
“I want to go for a run,” she said.
“I hate running,” he said.
“Common, you need to lose weight and you promised you’d come with me,” she said.
“Yeah, but it’s so cold out,” he said.
“You promised!” she said.
“Oh my God, fine! I’ll go,” he said.
So on and so on.
Variety is key.
“I want to go for a run,” she said.
“I hate running,” he replied smugly.
“Common, you need to lose weight and you promised you’d come with me.”
“Yeah, but it’s so cold out.”
“You promised!” she whined.
“Oh my God, fine! I’ll go,” he grumbled.
Not sure what other dialogue tags you can use? Check out “Dialogue Words: Other Words for ‘Said'” from nownovel.com.
Now you have some of the starter tools to tell a good story
Having a hard time writing on a regular basis?
Check out our article about creating and maintaining a consistent writing schedule.