One snowy night in winter, Mikey Blaszcykowski dreamed about a black dog.
One overcast day at the end of the summer of 2013, Luk Mingming ate a pineapple bun and saw the future.
One ordinary day in an ordinary place, someone read something which made her want to write a story.
The first two people above are fiction: I made them up. The third one? Well, I made him or her up too—but it may come true: it may be a story about you.
Last week, we tried to define the word story.
This week, part two of a series on How to Write a Novel, let’s start by thinking about what the word “story” means to us, and then try to start actually writing one.
What do you associate the word “story” with? For me, like many people, it’s children. Many people see stories as items of entertainment or education for the very young. They think of picture books. They think of teachers reading tales out loud in kindergartens.
But the truth is that stories are much more important than that. They are all around us, whether we are adults or children, and they have an important purpose.
The articles we read in newspapers are stories.
Movies are stories.
Computer games are stories.
And listen to yourself chatting with your friends, and what do you hear? “Last night I got a call…” “Yesterday this weird guy turned up on my Facebook page.” “My uncle said he saw a ghost last night…”
Yes, our conversations are also stories.
Listen to your favorite pop singer—in his or her songs, you’ll find characters, and emotion, and incidents: important elements from stories.
And what about comedians? What is a joke, but a story with an unexpected and outrageous twist?
“A man, a woman and a rabbit went into a bar…”
Stories are everywhere.
And they are important. Every time journalists ask historians to come with candidates for the most influential people who ever lived, they come up with names such as Jesus and Confucius and the Buddha. These individuals were not billionaires, or warlords, or scientists. They were people who travelled around telling stories.
Why are stories so important?
Because sharing stories is how we make sense of our lives.
They are a special way of exchanging information—a way that delivers not just facts but other things too, such as values.
What makes them special? Well, a key thing is that stories are far more entertaining than other ways of communicating information—and that makes them powerful.
If you give people a long list of facts, they will find it hard to remember most of them.
But if you tell people a story, they get the same facts, packaged in a memorable way.
Where does their special power come from?
Stories deliver information with an emotional force which means they are received more powerfully.
We talk about stories having a visceral force, which means they shake us inside. (Viscera is a word meaning “internal organs”.) Remember how you feel when you come out of a movie theatre where you’ve just seen a great film? As if you’ve been shaken inside?
Now I’ve told you how important stories are, let’s begin to write one. The first thing you need is an interesting first line. Here are three opening lines from books. Read them and see if you can work out why they are interesting.
1. "Mr. and Ms. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
That’s the opening of the first Harry Potter book, by JK Rowling. Why is it interesting? Because people who really are normal don’t feel the need to go round telling everyone that they are normal.
You don’t introduce yourself by saying: “Hello, I’m normal.”
Because the Dursleys are saying they are normal, you know they aren’t—and you know there’s a dark secret there.
2. “This morning I was born in a yurt at the edge of a horse-plain in a land of a planet which no longer exists.”
That’s the opening line of God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert. You can tell it is going to be an exciting science-fiction tale, can’t you? There’s galaxy-spanning action and clear suggestions that the author is going to play with the laws of physics.
3. “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.”
That’s the beginning of a book called The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. It starts dramatically by introducing a character and a mystery. Why did he kill someone? How come he didn’t even know the victim’s name? And why did he go into a restaurant instead of running to hide? So much intrigue and drama in a single sentence!
Your turn. Why not try writing some great opening sentences? It just takes a single sentence for the magic to begin.
If you feel like, write an opening sentence of a story in the comments space below.
HERE ENDETH LESSON TWO.
IN OTHER NEWS
This is a “selfie” I just took in my new office—and explains why I haven’t written much this week. Everything is still in boxes. Sorry.
Meanwhile, I was amused to read (in the comments to the previous post) that commentator Grandpa Fardel got a new phone and a colleague programmed the whatsapp app into it.
He wrote to his daughter: "Hi , daughter, this is me, wassauping you."
She replied: "OH ! You finally moved up from the stone age.”
He said to me: “The good news is I now have a granddaughter, whom I could wassup for the first time last night.”
Well, congrats to Grandpa on his new granddaughter and his new app. I hope they both bring him lots of happiness.
But I had lunch with Grandpa’s daughter last week, and she definitely wasn’t pregnant.
So I’m guessing he has two daughters.
And congrats too to reader Karuna (below, right) for being a lovely man. This tech genius gave a job in his office in Hong Kong to Grandpa’s lovely younger daughter, the delightful Keshia (left), who is in the city for a month.
These two families only know each other from both being fellow commentators on this site—and they live literally on opposite sides of the planet. That’s modern life for you.
Keshia is brilliant, just like her father. She has mastered English, French and Chinese—and she’s only 20 years old.
MEANWHILE, HERE is the funniest video I was sent this week.
Keep your eye on the scooter driver in the middle of the video right at the top. His last act made me laugh out loud.
HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND… I’ll be unpacking boxes and hope to be back to normal next week.
AND if you are feeling creative, why not write the first sentence of a novel in the comments box below?