My new story

Hi everyone,

David on rock 5I am SO excited about my new story! It may be one of the funniest I’ve ever done and I cannot wait to show it to editors. They will be so overwhelmed by it that they won’t even let me e-mail it to them. They’ll rent a plane and fly to Springfield to shake my hand and personally accept the story from me. I’m telling you, it’s that funny!

The idea came between Christmas and New Year as Sandy and I drove south on Highway 65 to Branson with Jeff and Jennifer to spend a couple of nights at The Wilderness Club at Big Cedar.

We were talking about this and that when a chance remark got me thinking about this really, really funny situation for a story and right away we were all tossing out ideas to make it better and better! The statement that set the whole thing in motion came from Jennifer so I’ve already promised to dedicate this masterpiece to her, my daughter-in-law, Jennifer Jackson Harrison.

One thing I still need to do is come up with a title. I’m not good with titles but this story, this amazing story, deserves a perfect title so I’ll work extra hard on this one.

There’s one other thing too. I haven’t exactly finished the story yet. Okay, I haven’t really started it. Okay, I don’t actually know how it will go. Or what the characters will be. Or who will be telling the story. For that matter I don’t have a specific setting yet either. And there are some seriously challenging elements in our car-talk version of the idea that remain to be settled.

What we have here is a perfect example of what can happen when an author falls in love with an idea and can just see the finished product in all its glory, written better than anything he has ever done before, while all who see it laugh till tears of joy stream down their cheeks.

This is a moment I live for. I am sitting on an idea that is perfect in my mind. Not one detail of the story is clear but I love it anyway.

Now it’s up to me. All I have to do is get it right. All I have to do is make the actual writing as good on paper as it already is in my head.

Chances are I will fail. I almost always fail. If I could graph the process, the bar on the left is the idea, standing pure, tall, and shining in the sun, a lofty goal of 100% perfect. The bar on the right is my effort to match the height of perfection that I aspire to reach. Through draft after draft I will hope to pass the 50% mark, the 65%, the 80%. I’ll see the top.

Can I get there? This climb is the agony that we all face. It’s the difference between people with good ideas and people holding books in their hands. I don’t know exactly how close to the top one has to reach, but I know it’s where failure lies in wait. The last few percentage points come much harder than those at the bottom of the bar.

But this time I’m going to do it! This is the time I will stand on the summit of my imagination and wave my manuscript in triumph! Editors, the line forms on the right. But dress warmly. It’s cold outside and I haven’t started the first draft.


Starting a story

Good day to everyone. I know that some of you are story writers with your own ideas about what makes a story and how to get started. I’ve published a number of stories, too, for children and adults, and I love writing them. Sometimes on school visits we talk about story writing. What I tell students is much the same as what I tell adults. Today I thought I’d offer some ideas on the subject of getting started. If you disagree or have other suggestions, I hope you’ll join the conversation.

In 2004 I published a Scholastic Guide book for young writers entitled Writing Stories, Fantastic Fiction from Start to Finish. As I prepared to write the book I read what other writers had to say about writing stories. Here are a few.

“A writer’s job is to create characters and give them a place to grow. Start with a situation, introduce the characters, then begin to narrate.”
— Stephen King
Novelist, story writer

“A story consists of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he confronts and solves.”
— Jon Franklin,
Pulitzer winning journalist

“The three greatest rules of dramatic writing are: Conflict! Conflict! Conflict!”
— James Frey

King is more concerned with narration, description, and dialogue than he is about plot. He believes that plot isn’t important and can even restrain the characters’ abilities to move about and grow. These successful writers tell us to take a situation, introduce characters, and start telling their stories.

In my book, I show students that situations and characters can be thought about together.

• Wooden puppet, sometimes naughty, wants to become a real boy (Pinocchio).
• Pig born runt of the litter fears for his life (Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web).
• Hero from another planet disguises himself as a mild-mannered reporter (Superman).

Start your own list of characters and situations. Here are three to help get started.

• Old dog in animal shelter fears he’s too ugly to be adopted.
• New girl in class says she can do something she can’t.
• Boy hurt in accident must learn to live without walking.

Once you have selected a situation and introduced your characters, you are ready to begin telling the story of what happens. There is more to a story, of course, than getting started. We can talk about other elements later, if you wish.

Stories are about characters and how they solve their problems. If we make the problem too easy, the reader gets bored. If we make it too hard, the reader doesn’t believe the solution.

Stories usually build toward a climax during which the leading character(s) attempts to resolve the conflict (solve the problem). Failure in initial efforts helps build suspense and engage the reader in rooting for the hero to somehow manage to pull off the seemingly impossible.

How all the elements — idea, beginning, character, situation, problem, action, dialogue, solution, ending — come together are the stuff of many how-to books on story writing. But I always remind students or adults that writing begins with a single word on a piece of paper or the screen of a computer. The mind cannot improve on nothing. Carrying around that great idea is our minds is, for many writers, a necessary incubation period, but sooner or later that story has to begin showing itself on paper.