There’s a lot to keep in mind when you’re driving. Stay between the lines, watch the speed limit, check your mirrors, signal when turning, DO NOT TEXT…
The list goes on and on. It’s a wonder that anyone can get in a car and go somewhere when we’re supposed to follow so many rules at the same time. But the human brain is an amazing thing, and people drive all the time with no problem.
(Well, some people drive all the time with lots of problems. I honk at those people.)
Anyway, writing is kind of similar. You have to mind your punctuation, spell things correctly, match your nouns and verbs, organize thoughts into sentences, organize sentences into paragraphs… The list goes on and on.
But these are the mechanics of writing, and after a while, they become second nature, just like using your turn signal or obeying a red light. (Yes, those should be second nature!)
What’s harder to remember is how to tell a good story. Probably because there are so many different ways to accomplish that. Now, I’m hardly an expert, but back at the Kenyon Review workshop, I did learn about 3 things that have really improved my storytelling: Object, Conflict, and the Ticking Clock.
The Object is something threaded throughout a story that the reader can follow. The Object can be an actual thing (like a watch) or a place (like a park) or it can even be a secondary character (like a pet pig). Usually the Object is important to the story or the story’s themes.
Conflict can come about in a variety of ways. We know the English teacher definition (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. God, etc.). But simply put, Conflict is when a character wants something and can’t get it. An easy way to create Conflict is to put another character into the scene/story. Even better, put TWO characters in.
The Ticking Clock is similar to Conflict in that it adds tension, but it isn’t a hindrance to the character’s goal. It merely adds urgency.
Here’s an example of what Object, Conflict, and a Ticking Clock can do for a story:
Olivia ran to the lab.
Olivia ran to the lab to find the blue vial.
Olivia ran to the lab to find the blue vial before Gallagher.
Olivia ran to the lab to find the blue vial before Gallagher could poison Isaac with it.
The last sentence is a bit more exciting than the first, no?
Not every scene/story is going to have all 3 elements, but if you ever find yourself stuck, try looking for an Object in your story, or try putting one in. Try adding another character (or two) to the scene. Try a Ticking Clock. You might be surprised at how quickly things get interesting, and interesting scenes/stories are the ones that suck us in, both as writers and as readers.
(Note: Despite my analogy, I do not recommend adding an Object, Conflict, or Ticking Clock to your driving.)