by Davyne DeSye
“Mommy, how do you write a story?”
“One word at a time,” I answered – rather flippantly, I admit, but I was cooking dinner.
“A good story,” my daughter continued.
Ah. A more interesting question. I pondered how to answer as a chopped.
“I read a story Christina wrote for school. It was boring.” My daughter makes her guilt apparent in her furrowed brow – Christina is her best friend.
“Make me care,” I finally answered.
“You don’t care if her story was boring?” she asks, now perplexed. “Or you don’t care how to write a good story?”
Through my answering chuckle, I clarify: “I was answering your question. A story is a good one if you make me care.”
“Care about what?”
“What was Christina’s story about?” I ask.
“A boy who wrecks the neighbor’s flower garden,” she answers.
“Why did he do that?” I ask.
“I don’t really know. I guess he was mad.”
“What if he was mad because the neighbor killed his new puppy?” I ask.
“Oh. I guess I’d be mad, too. I’d feel sorry for the boy,” she answers.
“What if he was mad because his mother had just punished him?”
“I’d wonder why he got punished. Maybe he’s a bad kid, or maybe his mom is mean.”
“So, in one case, you would agree with him, and feel sorry for him, and in the second case, you’re wondering… is he mean, or is his mom? Is the story boring, now that you care? Now that you are trying to decide whether you like this boy or not?”
“Christina’s story wasn’t like that. It was boring.”
“She forgot to make you care. To write a good story, you have to make someone care what happens next, and you have to make them care about the people in the story. Like them, hate them, pity them, recognize them as someone you could be friends with, or someone who would scare you. Are you dreading what will happen next? Are you curious? Are you excited? If you can make someone care, then you’ve written a good story.”
As simplistic as my explanation was, it is true – at least as far as I’m concerned. When I write, I write for reaction. Any reaction. I call writing “bleeding on the page” or “vomiting on the page” – both conjured images rather vivid and disgusting, and thus, to my mind, rather apropos, if only because they garner a reaction. For each character, the question must be asked and answered: Why? Why is this character behaving in this way? What is she trying to accomplish, or to what from her past is she reacting? Then also, for each scene or setting, you must paint a picture that touches the reader’s senses in some way – the smell of fresh baked bread, the frigidity of the marble bench under thinly clad thighs, the grinding sound of a saw in the next room. Why has the character noticed these things? Why does she care?
Anticipation (of romance, of terror, of who is going to win the election, of how the new technology is going to change the way we interact) is what makes for good reading. Knowledge of why the character does what he does leads to wondering about how he’ll react when…
In short, if I don’t know that the boy was mad, or care why, it’s not a good story.
Make me care. That is all I ask. Thrust out the hook that will pull me along.
Davyne (pronounced "DAH-vee-ANN") DeSye was born to foreign royalty and spent her youth traveling among various countries assisting in her parents' efforts to acquire and refurbish old world castles. Davyne left her parents and their lives forever upon learning that she was born an orphan and was merely the subject of a nurture vs. nature experiment. She still loves to travel, although she tends to avoid visiting castles.
She now lives in Colorado with her husband and five children.
(Or at least that's the story this month...)
Davyne's stories have been published in, or will soon be appearing in Tomorrow, Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra eMag, MindFlights, Tales of the Talisman, Foliate Oak, and Nth Degree.
To learn more about Davyne, please visit her website.