When I first started writing – in my innocence and naivete, I used to think that I could scribble down anything that came to mind. My very first short story was about a middle-aged man called Herbert who suffered from bowel incontinence and who, to make matters worse, had a spaceship land on his front lawn. He was only saved from humiliation by God coming back from holiday and (literally) saving his ass.
Now, I thought that it was quite an interesting story, but although it provoked laughter in some quarters, it didn’t really hit it off with a more sophisticated audience.
It took me a while to realise the shape of the buying public. Just as there are not too many people around who think that the Earth is flat, there are few who embrace stories about being saved from alien invasion by the stunning combination of God and a guy who regularly poos his pants.
Luckily for you, following these tips will allow you to write cultivated stories that will sell, sell, sell:
- Read the requirement. If the story asks for 1000 words – write 1000 words. If you’re asked for a particular format – provide a story in that format. Keep your creativity and originality for stand-up comedy. Behave!
- Stick to one point of view (POV). Switching from the first person indicative to the third person participative and back again might seem like a clever thing to do, but the truth is – it confuses people. Only use more that one POV if you have a massive stick up your bum about it.
- Have a funny bone. Try to slide little subtle humour into your story, but only enough to leave your readers feeling good about the situation. There’s a fine line between humour and buffoonery, so be aware of it and don’t cross over to the dark side.
- Four’s a crowd. It depends on the length of your story of course, but don’t try to pack too many characters into too small an area. If you’re writing a short story then two characters, at most three, should be plenty. Keep the cast of a thousand for your next space opera – then you’ll have plenty of people to kill off when you get bored.
- Make sure that you can write. This may sound too obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people write stories, novels, and even epic four-part trilogies without first checking that they can write. Grammar, syntax, meaning, and readability is really important, so it’s worth checking with a very good friend (not your mother or anyone that you owe money to – they will lie to you) that they can understand what you are writing. A good way to find out the truth about your quality of work is to insult a very good writer. Their response will be like gold to you. Listen carefully.
If you are determined to do it – then do it for the love of the craft. Do it because it warms your heart. Do it because you fall asleep at night with a satisfied smile on your face after knocking our a couple of thousand words. Do it for you.
“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” (W. Somerset Maugham)