A story in last week’s headlines about a woman who fired a gun through a McDonald’s drive-through window because her order was wrong (“What, no bacon? Well, take that!”) started me thinking how Fact is, indeed, Stranger Then Fiction—though that alone does not make a story. (You can find the details here). Perhaps I could have titled this entry, Writers Can Learn From Stupid People.
In every writing class and in every writer’s group there is always someone who defends their piece of writing by stating, quite emphatically, that the events written were exactly as they happened. Okay, but does that make a story?
Here’s an example of a conversation just as it happened:
“Hey, Ben, how you doing?”
“Good, how about you?”
“Liking the weather.”
“Yeah, I decided to ride my bike instead of driving.”
“Save some gas money, huh?”
“Every little bit helps.”
“Did you hear about the new order from the top?”
“No, what’s up?”
In the above example, two people are talking but saying little. So, what’s the problem other than the conversation is BORING? There is little in the first part of the conversation that hints to some type of conflict. Every scene, in one way or another, should have conflict, either between the characters (even if they are friends) or in the thoughts of the Point of View character. This conversation also included no mystery until the very end, and still the response is inadequate.
As a side note—regardless of what genre, mystery plays an important part in holding the reader’s interest: what is going to happen, will that decision come back to haunt the lead character, can they survive against such odds? Whatever the mystery, it must be important to the character, and thereby, concern the reader.
Additional side note—equally important is what the writer chooses to leave out of the story; not everything you know about your characters is important to the story you are telling. Often, we as writers think the reader needs to know everything; this is not true.
Case in point: the dialogue above, which lacks color, depth, and little to entice the reader to continue. Most should be removed, replaced by action that shows the person rode his bike, for instance, by having the viewpoint character notice the bicycle helmet in their hand or sitting on a desk nearby. However the writer decides will be superior to the drab dialogue, which should be removed, or at least improved to show conflict.
Returning to the woman who fired a gun through the McDonald’s drive-thru; as it stands, the story offers little more than the very act itself, which brings us to the conclusion that some people are really stupid. But what if there existed something more, like motivation? What if the woman was shooting at a woman who she thinks is flirting with her boyfriend, or at a woman who is having an affair with her husband while she stays home with the three children? Now there is conflict other than no bacon on a hamburger.
Let your mind go wild when trying to reenact a scene that did take place in real life. Add a twist, ask the invaluable but often forgotten, What If? question. There are stories surrounding us, people and events that deserve to be told—they just have to be massaged and tweaked to nurture them into a valid story encompassing the necessary ingredients that make stories unforgettable: character-conflict-conclusion.
Now, go write about something that really happened and improve on it . . .
This Week’s Quote:
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
This Week’s Links: