In an earlier article entitled “Telling Your Story with Style and Passion,” the steps on how to begin the process of writing a short story and on how to create an effective story map or plot were presented. Theme and time span were also addressed. This article will cover dialogue, word choice and imagery, sentence structure and variety, and other grammar related suggestions as well as effective ways to capture the attention of your readers from the very first word and ways to keep them reading and enjoying the story until the last word.
Dialogue can be a very effective way to depict your characters and tell your story. However, it must contribute to the main focus of the story. Every word you have your characters say must help to reveal your theme. If these words do nothing to further your plot or theme, then be ruthless and take them out of the story. They might confuse your readers about what it is you are trying to tell them.
Next you want to transform your readers into your story so they will feel as if they are actual observers. Vivid imagery is one great method to draw the reader into your story. You must capture the reader’s interest and empathy for your characters. You need to paint such a vivid picture the readers can imagine themselves in the scene. Again this requires placing yourself in the scene as well and transposing this into your writing. Ask yourself as a reader, what questions you might have about a character or event in your story and then add these details but only if they enhance the story or theme. Try to describe your characters so they come alive to the readers as real people—not just fictional. Your goal is to make the readers empathize or even identify with the problems the characters are facing and thus, become involved in their lives. Give enough information to make them seem believable. To describe your scenes and events, always use powerful verbs and highly descriptive adjectives and adverbs which embellish the story. Develop your own unique way of expressing your ideas.
If this is challenging or difficult for you to do, use a Thesaurus to help you to find the perfect words. Experiment with a writing style with which you feel comfortable—whether it is formal or more casual. Of course, this choice of writing style will also be dependent upon your plot, your setting, and your characters.
Style also involves your sentence structure. Always try to use your best grammar skills, of course, and always use Spell Check to correct spelling errors unless, of course, the misspelled word is a slang word deliberately being used in the dialogue between your characters. Varying the length of your sentences is very effective. Shorter simple sentences are usually more dramatic than long complex or compound sentences. Reading your writing out loud to listen to the flow of the words and the sentences as well as to find careless mistakes is highly recommended and helpful. If possible, also share your writing with another person by reading it out loud to this person to get objective advice or feedback from this person. Sometimes as a writer, you become too close to your story and do not always recognize your possible problem areas.
Remember your story begins with the very first word—the very first sentence—the very first paragraph, so make sure you capture your reader’s attention as soon as you can. Include your setting and introduce your main character if possible early in your story. Within the first paragraphs, you should introduce the problem or conflict. You only have a small space in your story to tell your plot; therefore, do not waste time or space; plan carefully. Fill your story with details relevant to the plot and the theme which will keep your readers involved and interested in the lives of your characters. Build up to the climax so your readers are effectively prepared for it and will accept the outcome of the conflict resolution. Again it must seem believable to the readers. Finally, do not forget about the ending.
Unless you are writing a story with an open-ended conclusion, you must bring your readers down from the high point of the conflict resolution to an acceptable ending. Make it one they will remember well. Thus, your last sentence and your last paragraph are just as important as the first ones. Make your ending meaningful and significant and related to the theme if possible and appropriate. This is your last opportunity to share your overall story message.
The final step, of course, is the editing process. Read it over and over and over again and again out loud. The first draft will not be your final draft. Do not be afraid to rework your story if needed. Get away from the story for a few hours or even a few days. Distance from the story will enable you to have a fresh perspective when you read it at a later time.
This is the first paragraph and a small portion of the second one from my short story She Only Wanted to Dance. The conflict resolution and the ending must remain secrets now though since this story will hopefully be published one day. One final comment to remember: This story will represent you so LET YOUR PASSION AND PERSONALITY SHINE THROUGHOUT IT, TOO.
Lying in her bed alone on a warm, humid night in mid-June, seventeen year old Julia unhappily contemplated about not being able to perform on a Broadway stage dancing to her favorite songs. This was the lowest night of her life. She had completely given up on life.
She had missed out on so much recently and did not believe anything positive would occur in her future ever again. All of her life she had fantasized about being a professional dancer and nothing else. Now this fantasy would remain just this—a fantasy. From the early age of four years, she had taken numerous dancing lessons—ballet, tap, ballroom, Latin, hip hop, and modern dancing. She had excelled at all of them. Dancing was her passion. She had always received great praise and encouragement from all of her instructors. Julia’s ability and talent to use her graceful, lovely body to express music was truly a gift from God.
Dancing came so easily for Julia, and a successful career in dancing would have been a certainty if not for that tragic, sad, rainy night on December 7 over a year ago when a totally irresponsible and tremendously insensitive, self-centered drunk driver crossed the center line on Route 10 and violently crashed into her small VW beetle head-on.