Four ways to keep your story interesting

Hi everyone,
David giving brief remarks
For those who like to write stories, here are some quick reminders of ways to keep things flowing.

David L. Harrison

ONE: NARRATION. You do most of the talking.
Fox was about to get the surprise of his life. Every hen in the hen house had learned kickboxing. Cackling softly among themselves, they peeked out through a crack and watched the unsuspecting thief slinking up the path toward his doom.

TWO: MONOLOGUE. Your character talks to him/herself.
“I smell chickens!” Fox told himself. “Straight ahead! A hen house is full of juicy, plump chickens! Here I come, my delicious, darling, juicy, plump chickens!”

THREE: NARRATION AND MONOLOGUE. Your character talks but you help.
“I smell chickens!” Fox told himself. “Straight ahead!” He had not eaten in three days. Not a fat mouse. Or a skinny lizard. Or even a sorry little grasshopper. He licked his lips and almost purred.
“A hen house is full of juicy, plump chickens!”
Fox’s tattered tail twitched. His hairy ears cocked forward.
“Here I come, my delicious, darling, juicy, plump chickens!”

FOUR: DIALOGUE. More than one character talks.
“I smell chickens!” Fox told himself. “Straight ahead!” He had not eaten in three days. Not a fat mouse. Or a skinny lizard. Or even a sorry little grasshopper. He licked his lips and almost purred.
“A hen house is full of juicy, plump chickens!”
The hen house leader pressed one eye against a crack in the wall.
“He’s coming!” Lily whispered.
Unaware that he was being watched, Fox crept up the path.
“Ready girls?” Lily whispered.
“Let him come!” came two dozen fierce voices.
“Where is he now?” someone asked.
“Shhh,” Lily whispered. “Just outside the door.”
Fox crouched, ready to spring.
“Here I come, my delicious, darling, juicy, plump chickens”.
On the other side stood a determined flock of warrior hens.
Someone was in for the surprise of his life!


22 comments on “Four ways to keep your story interesting

  1. This confirms once again that you can never go wrong with chickens. Hysterical!

    And the tips are good, too. Isn’t there some sort of rule about not starting picture books with dialogue? How do you feel about that?

    • Thank you, Renee. I’m a chicken fan too. One of the best in the business with chickens is Mary Jane Auch. She not only tells wonderful pun-filled chicken stories in her books but can also keep a crowd giggling uncontrollably when she starts telling of her personal experiences with chickens.

      As for starting a picture book with dialog, I’m for whatever works. When E. B. White opens CHARLETTE’S WEB by asking, “Where is Papa going with that ax?” I don’t care if it’s a picture book or a full novel, I’m hooked. In his 64-page story, FROG AND TOAD, Arnold Lobel gets things rolling by introducing dialog in the second sentence: “Frog knocked at Toad’s door./’Toad, wake up,’ he cried.”

      In my 64-page story, THE CASE OF OG THE MISSING FROG, I open with my little boy talking to his sad looking frog: “Og the frog, you look so sad!/I hope you are not feeling bad./A frog should never look so blue./I wonder what is wrong with you!”

      In JOHNNY APPLESEED, MY STORY, I begin with, “Someone is coming!” Beth yelled. My editor for that book wasn’t fond of dialog but she allowed it. Johnny has sold 370,000 copies so far, been translated, and adapted into a little musical play by Story Salad Productions.

      • Thanks, David. True, the opening of CHARLOTTE’S WEB definitely pulls one in. 🙂 I am of the same mind — do whatever works best for the story and go from there. I recently wrote a couple of longer stories for early readers that started with dialogue, but then I self-edited them to change to narrative because they seemed to stall out. But I have another that is almost all dialogue that I like. Who knows, maybe it’s a play instead!

    • Hi Julie,
      I guess I’ve never worried about the issue until it comes up in conversation. Most stories probably get going better with a bit of narrative to set the scene. However, if the story you’re telling just screams for opening dialog, I’d go with it. If an editor objects, be prepared to defend your logic or revise to suit.

  2. Dear David:
    Isn’t it wonderful to lay out your 4 ways to keep a story flowing without having to depend on anyone else to direct. I remember your graciousness when arriving at Honesdale last year and none of your copies were available for hand-out. You graciously adapted. (Just like you did this AM with Pat Farrell’s posting on WOM.)
    It’s not just your postings that teach: it’s your manner too!

  3. David, dear — I love the dialogue. The chatter. The scene setting, especially the one with the chickens cackling among themselves.
    And I love you. There! Published for all to see.

    • Dear Pat!
      And now the world knows that I love you too! Thank goodness no one ever reads these comments. Pat do you remember sitting in a group listening to MJ tell us her chicken stories? We would beg her for more.

  4. Love your examples of these different approaches, and how they each show a different perspective on the same story. I’ve copied and saved them in my Brilliant.Writing.Examples.From.Brilliant.Writers_file. Thanks David, and enjoy your family trip.
    ps I can imagine this working also as alternate short chapters from fox/chicken POV, or even narrator/fox/chicken. Then the reader gets the fun of putting all the pieces together in a way that none of the characters can do.

    • Good ideas, Buffy. What fun that approach would be in the classroom! Students could be divided into characters in the story, or groups of characters, and challenged to tell the story from their point of view. Thanks for suggesting it.

  5. Mmmm…now I’m hungry for chicken! Oh, and writing! Thanks for “showing” not “telling” in your examples. You are a great teacher (in person and via your blog). Happy vacation! (My girls are already back in school!)

    • Good morning, Bridget,

      I’m glad you liked my chickens. It’s a fun exercise. I can’t believe that the 2013 workshop is only weeks away. I’d better start getting my thoughts together for that!

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