You’ve taken the most important step and written your story down. Whoop and holler! That’s a huge accomplishment. So many amazing stories are lost because the dreamer never shares their stories. But committing your story to paper or the computer is only the first step in creating a great story. Now you must take this raw material and, like a sculptor, shape your ideas into a masterpiece.
I find it difficult to simply read and re-read my story and make it better. I thought I’d share a few of my tricks to make your story shine. All you need is a printed a copy of your story and as many colour pens and highlighters as you can find!
Put a red line between each sentence. Read your sentences out loud and consider them one-by-one. Are they complete sentences with a subject and verb? Now look at pace and flow. Short, punchy sentences can be used for action or tense scenes to make your reader feel breathless. Long, flowing sentences can make your reader linger on a thought or idea or paint a beautiful scene. But too many long, complex sentences can cause your reader to pause or stumble. Take a look at the flow of your sentences and make any adjustments that might make your prose more readable.
First pick a coloured pen or highlighter and circle all the nouns in your story. Can you picture the noun? Did you use a generic noun when a more specific word could paint a more vivid picture? For example consider the line: Zack drove by in his car. This sentence is pretty bland. We know the bare minimum of what’s happening. We could tell so much more about Zack based on the car he drives. Is it a rusty old sedan or a fiery red sports car? Look at your nouns and help them paint a picture of words.
Also keep on the lookout for passive voice: sentences that start with ‘there are’, ‘here is’, ‘he is’ etc. These signal that you are telling and not showing the reader your story. Passive voice is easy to fix. For example: There are twelve pink polar bears swimming in a sea of lemonade. Simply delete ‘there are’ and use the active verb already in the sentence. The new sentence has more power: Twelve pink polar bears are swimming in a sea of lemonade.
Now let’s look at the action in your sentences. Pick another colour and highlight every verb. Then read only the verbs in your story. Do you have a sense of the action in your story? If not, your verbs may not be powerful enough. Have you overused some verbs?
Let’s consider Zack and his car again. We now know that Zack has a fire-engine red Porsche. But he’s simply driving by. We can do better than that. How did Zack drive? Drive doesn’t tell us much does it? Is he driving by very fast or very slow? He could race, zoom and speed by or he could sputter or putter or inch by. These verbs tell us so much more. Zack zooms by in his fire-engine red Porsche. We know even more about what’s happening in the scene.
My final tip is to highlight each character in a different colour. Now read your story character by character. Look at each character’s dialog and description. Is your character consistent throughout your story? Has the character come to life on the page? Can you picture the character?
Now revise your story based on what you’ve learned. Read and re-read your story until you can’t think of any way to improve it. Then set it aside for a week or longer. Go back to the story with fresh eyes. When you can’t find anything else to change – then give it to a friend, family member, teacher or librarian who loves reading and writing as much as you do. Ask them for feedback. Do they have any suggestions for making your story better? Writers need editors and readers. We often read what we think we put on the page. We can visualize the characters and actions because we’ve imagined it. Now it’s your turn!