Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: King/Jenkins Story-Writing Tips

Some good suggestions from Stephen King and Jerry Jenkins for wannabe story writers:

1. Have a strong beginning, with action such as “The gun fell to the floor.”

2. . . . or some little mysterious something such as “The first time she saw the shadow at the window, she regretted what she had done.”

3. Don’t spend several pages or even paragraphs describing the setting—get right to the action. You know how we are—instant-gratification seekers.

4. Don’t begin by having your hero wake up to the alarm clock.

5. Instead, start in the middle of things.

6. Then you can go back and fill us in later, if you want to.

7. Don’t say your hero looks (or happens to look) into a mirror and then describe what he sees. They say that’s just as corny and passé as having him wake up to an alarm clock.

8. Don’t say something like “’Don’t do it!’ exclaimed Fred.” “Exclaimed” isn’t necessary because, after all, you see the exclamation point there. Instead, say “’Just think about it!” said Fred. (Well, actually, they say it’s better not to use exclamation points because that’s kind of overboard. It’s better to just leave the exclaiming to the imagination of the reader.)

9. The same thing goes for questions: no need to say “Jane asked, ‘Will you go with me?’” Because the question mark shows the question. They say you should just say “Jane said, ‘Will you help me?’”

10. And . . . they say it’s best not to go with words like “she whispered, yelled, retorted, or countered” but just to use “said.” You can show whispered, etc., in the context: “her whisper was as raspy as the hinge on the back gate.”

11. You should know your characters very well, even if you don’t use all the details about them. Knowing your heroine will help you understand how she would respond in certain situations. Can we identify with her?

12. Conflict is important. Create your character and slap her up against some trouble.

13. Know her so well that you can just sit back and watch her go from situation to situation—and write it down as she does it. Jenkins and King both said their characters sometimes do things they didn’t plan for.

Once when one of his major characters died suddenly, Jenkins’s editor said, “I didn’t know you were going to kill her off.”

Jenkins said, “I didn’t mean to. She just up and died on me.”

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