Thursday, October 22, 2015

Build A Good Story

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.– Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway and I attended the same high school in suburban Chicago--Oak Park and River Forest High School, pictured above. We both became writers. He attained fame. I did not. Still, I like to put myself in the same group of alums of our school, even though he was there quite some time before I entered its hallowed halls. There is another difference between the two of us. I got A in freshman English and Mr. Hemingway flunked it. And yet, look where he traveled on his writing journey. Look at the goals he achieved and the awards he won.

I pay close attention to quotes by famous authors. These people did something right and I'd like to learn from them.

The author gives us fine direction in the simple six word quote above. An architect builds and so does a good writer. A good writer doesn't just sprinkle a lot of flowery language through a weak story so that it appeals to readers. A good writer builds his/her story from its foundation to the very top.

A building's foundation is of prime importance. So is the foundation of the story you are going to build. Know what it is before you begin. Then add one floor after another as you flesh out the story itself. The foundation has to be strong to hold what goes above it. I'd say this is a good argument for outlining your story, whether it is a short story or a novel.

Build your story with language that stays with the reader. Use sensory details to bring the place and the time and the action right to the reader. Show the reader the story; don't just simply tell it. You can do this if you build the story bit by bit upon that firm foundation.

Strong characterization, dialogue, tension, flow--all these and more are part of what makes a story memorable. It's what good authors like Hemingway become known for. These are the bricks on top of that foundation where your story begins.

So, the big question left today is How in the world did Ernest Hemingway flunk freshman English? Maybe he was so far beyond what was being taught that he just plain ignored it. Maybe he didn't like the teacher and had that snotty teen attitude of You can't make me do this. Perhaps he had poor study habits and neglected to finish the assignment or didn't turn in half of them. He could have been a late bloomer. We'll never know but take comfort in the fact that, even though he had to go home to parents who probably railed at him, he eventually learned how to build a darned good story.

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