A reviewThe essence of storytelling is "Something happened". The writer tells the reader something that happened. That's the bottom line. Of course, you can futz around with "themes" and so on, but stories generally should be pushed along by what happened, how and why.
Writers need to consider the tradition of storytelling, to put themselves in the shoes of a raconteur, sat fireside with a small group. You need to be aiming at having that audience straining forward to catch your every word, afraid to miss anything. Aim at that, and write tightly enough that missing a word really will detract from the experience, and your stories will be fantastic.
I often mention to writers in alt.fiction.original that their stories lack dynamics. The following is a very good example. I'm reposting it because it exemplifies how I think about fiction and why this particular bad writer wrote something poor.
If I could sum up for him why his stories -- and this is typical -- are no good, I would point out that he does not create potential. The reader is not excited about the unravelling of tensions he creates. You can think of a story as a hill. Rapidly build up a hill of potential, then push the reader down it (they don't have to reach the bottom and you can have them climb back up a little if you want). Not every story works like that but it doesn't hurt to master that idea before striking out into more static work.
Decaying Atheist wrote:
> This is the first attempt. I wrote it a day or two after the challenge
> was set. I edited and revised it twice. It still doesn't feel quite
> right. I just don't know what to do with it from here.
> The End of the End
> The rain left a swampy mess in her garden.
A "swamp" then.
Always take the simpler option. You will be astonished at how much you
improve as a writer if you follow that advice. When your writing is
absolutely as simple as you can make it, *then* you can flower it up.
> The last few flowers
> looked like
>they had attempted to crawl to higher ground to avoid the
> invading water. They
Read your work back to avoid mistakes like this.
The violet ones are called "violets".
>had no luck and were quickly
This would have had a lot more impact had you began "The rain consumed
Telling us what the rain *did* creates a dynamic first up. Telling us
what it *left* makes your piece immediately static.
Think in terms of motion, dynamics. Think in terms of how you drag the
reader along with you.
> She looked outside the window and frown again.
Frowned. You'll avoid these lazy, careless errors if you read your work
back before posting it.
> Her frown,
> her five hundredth that day, reflected back from the window.
As they do.
But why tell us that? Obviously she's going to be pissed off that her
garden is ruined.
Only show the reader what they don't know. It's an important principle
that will tighten up your writing. No good writer wastes much time on
painting those parts of the picture you already see.
> "Oh, I hate when I look like that." She pushed the hair away from her
> eyes and went back to the task at hand. She lit the candle in the
> center of the table. Next, she placed the plates, one on each side of
> the table.
A common problem for writers in this group is that they do not
understand that "scene-setting" is boring.
Nothing has happened in this story. You have posed the reader very few
questions and you have not created a dynamic. Questions create a
potential, like coiling a spring, which you can allow to unravel
through the story. Action is an alternative, creating situations for
the protagonists that create the same potential in a different way.
> Emily checked the oven; the roast was coming along well. It was his
> favorite. She wanted to make this reunion somewhat pleasant. Roger had
> been gone for a long time.
Okay, finally we have something. A woman we do not care about is
reuniting with a man we don't know. So at least we are asking who Roger
is to her.
> Each day she would get a letter, a letter that she never read. She
> saved the letters because she was too scared to throw them away.
Hmmm. Scared of what though? Take care to make characters' motivations
Read the first chapter of the Corrections. There a woman keeps
letters. Contrast that with your scene here.
> never opened them because she feared what awaited her inside, the love
> of a man she couldn't stand even thinking about.
> Roger was returning from overseas duty. A full year alone and the two
> declared their relationship to be strong enough to survive a year
> apart. She went along to smooth the waves. She saw no choice. He had
> promised to go and she couldn't stop him.
> The phone exploded into a ring that drove Emily's hand to her heart.
> It was a heart attack moment if ever she had had one.. The caller ID
> displayed an unknown name. She stopped, her hand trembling over the
> phone. She was waiting for it to stop. The phone just needed to stop
> ringing; it was the only thing that would allow her to keep her
> sanity. After six rings, the phone settled back. Emily went back to
> the dinner preparation.
This is too overwritten. Making too much of too little is the same
failing as not creating a dynamic. It makes the story flow like toffee.
Try to get at least to treacle.
> Five minutes later, the phone rang again. Her heart jumped, and she
> almost went hand first into the hot gravy. Another unknown name on the
> caller ID. Finally, she worked up the nerve and picked up the phone.
> The voice on the other side
>was familiar but strained. Obvious pent up
> emotions lingered in the air.
That's enough for me. You're right the emotions are "obvious". You've
laid them on thick in the preceding. But this is shit, straight out of
a Cartland. Actually, I think even she would consider having emotions'
lingering in the air!
Here's a tip for you. Always be asking why you expect the reader to go
on to the next paragraph. What reward have you promised? If you cannot
answer the question enthusiastically, you need to rewrite. I think at
this point I'm looking at a nervy woman who is reuniting with some
geezer. I don't care about her and I know you're going to throw in a
Here's a tip for the whole group. Give up the twists. It's like you're
telling really boring jokes just to get to punchlines that a small
child could have invented. Look outside that idiom of storytelling.
Consider leaving a few loose ends, so that your reader is left thinking
about what they've read.