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How To Write Stories From Everyday Life (Part 2 – Writing the first draft)


In yesterday’s article, I suggested three ways to pick stories from everyday life. Today I am going to talk about how to develop them into a stories.

You have to keep in mind that this form of storytelling is different from plot-driven storytelling, where the plot thinks for you.

There is basically only one plot in all plot-driven stories, whether you consider Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots or Georges Polti’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

And that plot is — there is a central character who wants something intensely and goes after it. He struggles and faces obstacles after obstacles, leading him to climax, after which he either wins or loses.

In this format of storytelling, the plot leads you to the considerations such as theme, setting, point of view, structure, narrative arc, etc. Plot-driven storytelling works well for anything above 5000 words.

Usually, stories from everyday life events are written as micro-stories (300 words or less), or flash fiction (up to 1000 words), or short stories (1000–2000 words). Anything longer than that, you need to follow plot guidelines.

Now that we have got plot-driven stories out of the way, let’s concentrate on non-plot-driven stories.

There are five elements to consider while writing stories from everyday life events. They are:

  1. Emotion
  2. Characters
  3. Conflict
  4. Scene
  5. Insight

Emotion

Emotion is the most important consideration to write everyday stories.

When reading a story, readers want something to touch their hearts. They want to feel something — love, compassion, hatred, pity, anger, wonder, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust, hope, trust, joy, shame, envy, anticipation etc.

In the short form, you can’t have too many emotions. So you need to concentrate on one.

Find the key emotion; this may be all you need to find your short story. — F. Scott Fitzgerald


Characters

Stories are always about someone. Micro-stories or even a story of few paragraphs has a character. Even the stories about animals, vegetables, or machines have central characters.

One of the main characteristics of a story is that the lead character goes through some form of transformation. However small, but the transformation is there. It doesn’t even have to be a positive transformation.

Long-form fiction has several characters in it. You do not have that luxury in short stories. The more characters you have, the more words you will need to describe them and their relationship and interactions with each other.

Keep the number to as few as possible. Two are ideal. Three or four are permissible. Anything more and you will end up writing a novella or a novel.

Conflict

conflict is the breeding ground from where the stories emerge.

It could be an internal conflict (conflict happening in the protagonist’s mind, also depicted as man vs. mind) or external conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature).

Since the short stories don’t have much space, they mostly start when the central character is at the end of the road—a desperate man taking desperate measures.

Once you have chosen the key emotion, elaborate on the conflict around it. Make it simple and focused. Narrow down your ideas as much as possible.

Think of all the things that can go wrong for your character. Everything you don’t want to happen to you or your friends should happen to your character. The only conflict is interesting. 

Scene

When you write a story, you have two choices. You can show, or you can tell. If you are showing you are writing a scene. If you are telling you are writing a summary.

A scene is vivid and intimate; a summary is distant and efficient. The scene is where the writer engages the imagination and the emotions of the readers. Everything important in your story should happen in a scene.

You now have a key emotion, one or two-character, and a conflict. Next, think of a scene where this conflict unfolds.

You start writing from the middle. When the action is over, and the aftermath is unfolding. Suppose it is a story about a long-standing marriage in trouble. You don’t need to write about the years of prosperity and bliss.

Insight

When does an anecdote become a story? When there is an insight.

Stories from everyday life are reflective. The writer examines an event or a memory to draw home a message. Sometimes the message is explicit, other times it is implied. But it is always there. Without a message, a story has no reason. 

When reading a story readers are on the lookout for insight. It invites them to introspect and examine their own thoughts and beliefs. It is through insights that readers build a connection with the writer. 

When the readers feel the same emotion you as a writer want to convey and get the same insight you want them to get, you have succeeded in writing an emotive story.

Here is a story by Nardi Reeder Campionthat appeared in Readers Digest a little while ago to illustrate the significance of insights in everyday stories.

Nardi describes a time in her life when she was down in dumps when she discovers a diary that had been kept more than forty years by a maiden aunt who had gone through some bad times herself.

Aunt Grace had been poor, frail and forced to live with relatives. 

“I know I must be cheerful,” she wrote, “living in this large family upon whom I am dependent. Yet gloom haunts me. Clearly, my situation is not going to change; therefore I shall have to change.”

To help her hold her fragile world together, Aunt Grace resolved to do six things every day:

1. Something for someone else

2. Something for herself

3. Something she didn’t want to do that needed doing

4. A physical exercise

5. A mental exercise

6. An original prayer that always included counting her blessings

The rest of the story described how these six steps help change Aunt Grace’s life.“Can life be lived by a formula?” Nardi asked herself. 

“All I know is that since I started to live by those six precepts, I’ve become more involved with others and less ‘buried’ in myself.” Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I have adopted Aunt Grace’s motto, “Bloom where you are planted.”

“It is extraordinary how extraordinary the ordinary person is.” — George Will

And even more extraordinary is the number of stories they’re carrying around — waiting to be written.


Now write the first draft.

Write the story as it comes to you.

Remember, it is only the first draft. The aim of the first draft is to find the story.

Don’t worry about polishing it or introducing various storytelling elements to it. All that can be done later. Don’t worry if you can’t take it to a conclusion either. Take it as far as you can.

When you get really stuck, use the TPIOM technique.

TPiOM is the refined version of James Altucher’s Idea Machine technique for fiction writers.

TPiOM stands for Ten Ideas in One Minute. If you can’t figure out what bad thing will happen to your protagonist, list ten possibilities in one minute. You must write ten doesn’t matter how unlikely they are to happen, and you must write them quickly before your left brain gets a chance to interfere. 

Then chose the most unusual one and proceeded with it. 

Don’t worry about the word count.

Write as many words as you need to tell the story. 

Don’t worry about bringing it to a certain length. 

If your story is about a conversation you had over coffee, capture as many details as you remember — describe the cafeteria, the smell of coffee, what your friends were wearing, the waiter in the background, the crockery. Try capturing dialogue as best as you can.

Once you have done it, put it aside and pat yourself on the back.

Today’s work is done.

Your draft is rough, but we can smooth it out in revisions.

Because stories aren’t written, they are re-written.

——-

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

  1. Margaret Smyth says:

    These are great guidelines for story writing Nerra, thanks.

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