How to Make Your Story Roar


How to Make Your Story Roar

As a creative writing teacher, I see a lot of beginner stories cross my desk that have very similar problems. One of the most common problems stories have is that they don't go far enough; they aren't bold enough; the writers simply aren't being brave. It's understandable, of course; writing is scary stuff. It's difficult to put all your deepest emotions and most deep-seated fears on the page. But if you don't invest anything of yourself in the story you write, you'll end up with a story that is cowardly. Here are the most common ways that beginner stories run and hide in a corner, and here's how to make them brave.

1) They hide behind cliches and old plotlines.

It's easier to think of a storyline that relies upon cliches than to think of a realistic story of your own. So that's why I see spy/thriller stories, serial killer stories, and weepy relationship stories all the time. These storylines aren't necessarily bad, but when we can predict every twist and turn, it means the writer hasn't been brave enough to throw a wrench into the workings of the cliche.

To be brave: Disrupt the played-out storyline. Have someone betray the main character in a way we wouldn't expect. Or better yet, write a story about your own life, with all its twists and turns. If it's real, it's guaranteed to be original, because only you have lived your life!

2. It hides behind stereotypes.

Sometimes it's too hard, or too scary, to imagine an inner life for a person who is different from ourselves. So we end up with shallow, stereotyped characters. Of course the girl is dumb and blond and spacey; of course the guy is jockish and unemotional, or nerdy and unemotional. We know how harmful and untrue racial and gender stereotyping is in real life, and it's no less harmful and untrue in fiction.

To be brave: Write a character of a different race, or gender, or sexual orientation, and try imagining him or her as a fully-realized human being, not just a cartoon character.

3. It hides behind perfect characters.

It can be scary to make the character you love have flaws. But it's the flawed characters that we love the most in fiction. Without being brave, we end up with dull, two-dimensional characters. We writers have a name for this kind of character: the Mary Sue. Mary Sue always gets good grades, and is the smartest kid in class but doesn't flaunt it. Mary Sue has a handsome boyfriend and they never fight. Mary Sue is wealthy and generous, kind and forgiving, popular and artsy all at once. And Mary Sue doesn't exist.

To be brave: Be honest about what flaws you have, and give your characters some of those flaws. Make them impatient or irrational, prone to anger or prone to laziness. Show them at their best and their worst.

What are the ways that you make your stories more brave? Tell us about it in the Teen Ink newsletter forum!