Three Sticky Notes

I love that Window’s program “Sticky Notes.” I have stickies all over my desktop which include an inspirational quote or two, reminders, to-dos, and a few with some writerly advice to myself.

Since I think they contain great advice, and since I’m overdue to post anyway, I’m going to share them with you:

For every scene, know the answer to these questions:

Sticky 1

I share this one a lot. It’s so easy to fall in the love with the sound of our own prose that we just keep on writing.

But all that backstory, all that clever dialogue, that visit with a well-loved character… does it help your story or bog it down?

Ask yourself, for every scene – even the ones you love – Where’s the conflict in this scene? Then ask how that scene advances your plot? If the answer to the first is “there isn’t any,” and the answer to the second is “it really doesn’t,” then you don’t need that scene and it’s only slowing down the pace.

Things your short story needs:

Sticky 2I modified this from a list I found on a forum somewhere and I can’t find the original, so I’m sorry for not crediting whoever crafted this list (if someone lets me know who it was, I’ll edit the post to fix it immediately). Having said that, this list applies just as well to novels, you just have more time to develop each item.

  1. setting – you need to orient your reader to your setting, and quickly. I’m currently beta reading a novel with a fairly typical medieval fantasy setting, but in chapter 17 (!), suddenly the characters are wearing jean shorts and tank tops. There has been a failure to convey our setting and it’s quite disorienting.

  2. a hook – most important in a short, but still important in a novel, you need to grab your reader’s attention quickly and then hold it. Start with some action or tension if at all possible.

  3. Conflict – without conflict, you don’t have a story

  4. Identifiable main character WHO PARTICIPATES IN THE CONFLICT – The second part is in all caps because it’s a surprisingly common fault that the story happens around the main character, to the main character, without her actually doing anything to resolve it. Make sure your main character is truly important to the plot of your story.

  5. crisis, resolution – everything must come to a head, and then resolve. That doesn’t mean it must resolve happily, just that it must resolve. If, for instance, your story is about a fight to save the live of the king, and the king dies – that’s a resolution. Not the one your characters wanted, but a resolution, nonetheless.

Another list of things your story needs

sticky 3

This list does overlap the other one, but that’s mostly because these things are so important. I’ll just point out that conflict is so important that it’s on all three lists!

  • an orientation to the world of the characters
  • an origination of conflict
  • an escalation of tension
  • rising stakes
  • a moment at which everything seems lost
  • a climactic encounter
  • a satisfying conclusion
  • a transformation of a character or situation (usually both).

I really do use these lists with almost everything I write. I ask myself about the setting and conflict. I look at the stakes and the tension and often rearrange or rewrite to make sure I’ve got the tension building.

Do you have any reminders you keep right in front of your face? Share them in the comments, if you like!

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