On Writing Stories

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I started writing fiction when I was nine. But I didn’t write what I considered “serious fiction” until I was fourteen. They were baseball stories about the struggles, triumphs, and defeats of the game. There were no personal struggles in those stories that went beyond a weak pitcher trying to defeat a strong lineup of opposing batters, or an underdog batter aiming for that all important hit against a topnotch pitcher to score a run, or a disadvantaged fielder doing his best to either catch an impossible out or throw a speedy runner out at home plate. All for the sake of winning the game.

I soon transitioned to writing stories about haunted houses and graveyards, supernatural creatures, and even aliens from other planets. My characters were underdogs seeking victory, like the players in my baseball stories. Stories filled my mind constantly. All through high school and college, I filled notebook after notebook with stories. Even when I became a professional artist, I spent downtime between projects writing stories.

Thirty-odd years ago (thirty YEARS? Seems less than that!), I published my stories online at a website I called Cloudbear. Visitors could also view my artwork there. But they could download PDF versions of my stories, which earned me a small following of readers. It was from them that I realized I was a real author. I didn’t need to have my stories published at a traditional publishing house.

As soon as I realized I was a real published author, I joined some writing groups to learn more about the craft so I could “build a better machine.” I took in a lot of information and advice from those groups, some of it good, some of it bad. Topics like Outlining, Not Outlining, Planning, Not Planning, When To Show, When To Tell, How To Hook Your Readers, When To Use Backstory, Beware Info Dumps, Revising, Reevaluating, sent my head spinning. If I didn’t follow the rules, could I really call myself a proper writer? If I ignored the rules, was I a hack?

Some important things I learned were:

1. All stories have a beginning, middle, and ending. Exciting stories have conflict, rising action, and a clobbering climax. Not all good stories have clobbering climaxes but have interesting main characters. People are complex, emotional, and have many layers of different feelings. Characters are more than people. They are persons … individuals. Individuals have distinguishing strengths, weaknesses, and qualities that set them apart from other individuals. Good stories have individuals who play well their strengths and do their best to hide their weaknesses. Conflict reveals both sides.

2. Speaking of interesting characters, the antagonist character is equal in importance to the protagonist, and is a confrontational character motivated to cheat and harm the main character by their dishonesty, questionable morals, and cowardice—three ingredients to every villain’s downfall.

3. Writing the first draft of stories is fun. Editing, not so much. Editing is hours of revising, hating your story when edits change its flavor by muddling the plot and ending, and loving your story when edits keep the flavor and tighten the syntax to an easy read.

4. When I didn’t follow the rules outlined by those writers’ groups, I really could call myself a proper writer! When I ignored certain rules, I wasn’t a hack. All those groups spent a lot of time comparing my stories (and me) to other authors in my genre and suggested I read their books and learn from them. Sorry, I don’t read a book to purposely learn techniques. I don’t care how Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or any other author writes, wrote, or plans to write. I write for me. I have my own style.

I love writing stories. It’s a self-fulfilling process of creating life from the imagination. At times, it’s an obsession. I live it, breathe it, consume it—am absolutely possessed by the “thing’s” very essence. Ideas for plots and characters bubble in my mind. I’m the guy with the blank stare that fell out of conversation five minutes ago, or awoke in the middle of the night and nearly knocked over the lamp while turning it on because a delicious story idea came to mind.

Even on days when I’m editing a story, I’m obsessed with new ideas, which I jot down aside and get back to work. And when I’m done writing for the day and I’m heading for bed, my unfinished stories call out at me to go back to work. I still have one more word to add, one more sentence to fix, one more paragraph to tweak, one more chapter to write…

Thanks for joining me today.

Peace and love.

Steve, 1/30/2023

This post “On Writing Stories” copyright © 2023 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

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5 thoughts on “On Writing Stories

  1. I look at editing the same way I do with my music on mixing… you can mix or edit the soul out of a piece if you do too much. Or maybe I’m reading something into it that is not right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, Max. You can edit the soul out of a piece. Stephen King republished ‘Salem’s Lot because his publisher did that to his original manuscript. And I watched a newspaper reporter quit her job because she thought the editor ruined her reports. (She was right. He wasn’t a good editor.) Editing well is a skill in and of itself.

      Liked by 1 person

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