My advice to aspiring writers in any genre is this:
Write a story that you want to read.
That’s it. Roll credits. Play the theme music. We’re done here.
Except that, much like anything worth doing, there is some work involved in writing an enjoyable story. If you can remember that simple truth, though, everything else has a purpose beyond just making your English teachers/the writing police happy. As I plot, write, revise, edit, pace around my living room like a mad man, and revise some more, I filter it all through if the story is entertaining to me. It makes the effort worth it.
I’ve worked with junior high students for ten years now and the same truth applies: I teach like I would want to be taught and it has brought me years of success. It’s the belief that, deep down, everyone has the same desire to be respected, trusted, and found worthy of something.
What makes writing fun is that you get to mess with all of that. Trust is broken, respect is lost, and worth is ground beneath the boots of life. Pity our characters because, like Catherine Warren said earlier, we can take out our frustrations on them. But skillful authors don’t rest in the role of sadistic warlords bent on personal vengeance. The effective storyteller invites the reader to want what the main character wants. That’s what really creeps me out over Poe’s “Tell-tale Heart” – I actually want to know what the narrator did. Is there something wrong with me?
Don’t answer that.
I tell my students that a successful story goes beyond grammar and punctuation, although mastery of those skills is like mastery in any other art: the more control you have over your medium, the more likely it is to create what you envision. Sometimes a single sentence will grab my attention and won’t let go. The word choice and structure click. The placement within the greater piece works.
This is where theory comes into application. The actual story creation process looks different for so many people and even for different narratives. I have one story that I wrote on a single legal pad from start to finish late one night, another spread across countless notebooks over time, and then the one found in January’s issue of Penumbra that only came to me when I could envision the imaginative little hero. I heard a sentence of his narration and started typing.
I’ve had the benefit of hosting authors like Ally Carter, Heather Brewer, Mike Lupica, Ridley Pearson, John Flanagan, P.J. Haarsma, Frank Beddor, James Dashner, and Lisa McMann at my school. I don’t list these authors as a humblebrag namedrop, but to share one united word of advice from them: write a story that you would enjoy. And the common step they all say leads to that? Seat time. Sit down and write. Write and then write some more. Write because you like writing. Write to make order out of chaos. Write to inspire and be inspired. Write because you have something to add to the world.
Why are you still reading this? Go write.