How to Write a Good Story

Again I say, I’m not a professional writer. I’m not even a published one. I never took any formal Creative Writing classes although I have been wanting to do that for a long time. Albeit all of that, a lot of people contact me asking me for general advice on how to write a story or a poem. Others send me their work requesting my help and input. Naturally, it gives me a sense of pride to see that others think of me as someone whose opinion matters. I try to take the task seriously but more often than not, I’m not that good as an instructor when it comes to writing. Anyhow, this is just an attempt to explain some basic rules that you should follow when you are writing a story. These are my own personal guidelines that I learned by reading countless fictional stories and scanning through creative writing lessons online.

– Obey the rules of grammar, punctuations and spelling! This is THE most common mistake in all the pieces of inexperienced writers. It pains my brain and my eyes when I see a story or a poem that could’ve been great if not for the shameful grammatical errors. Punctuations are very important and often neglected by many. They make the story easier to read and less confusing. Spelling mistakes are just a sign of laziness. Don’t you have a spelling checker?!

– Never use abbreviations. This is somewhat related to the previous rule but it had to be mentioned alone because the younger generation (speaking as if I’m old) tend to abbreviate everything! Remember, using 2 instead of to and 4 instead of for can only be done when you are texting someone.

– Maintain a consistent style and tone. If you are using the first person narrative format stick to it and don’t switch to other formats. If your story is basically a romantic one, keep it that way. Don’t insert some aliens, a sudden police car chase or make it overtly funny. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader’s sense of romance and you’ll turn your story into an Indian movie.

– Don’t use adjectives and adverbs excessively. This is also a common mistake because many think it adds something to the writing when in fact it takes away from it. The hot blazing golden sun shined brightly over the blue lazy waters. Do you see what’s wrong with the previous sentence?

– Divide and conquer! Well, not exactly. If your story is long then it would be smart to divide it into multiple chapters. Each chapter should have a central theme or event. Each chapter should end in a way that makes the reader look forward to the following one. That what makes the reader finish a novel in one day instead of reading it on and off for a couple of weeks. Be careful not to overuse cliff hangers because they can get old.

– There must be action! By action I don’t mean cars flipping over and explosions. However, a story that has nothing but dialogue can get boring. The characters should move and go through multiple events that shape up the story. Of course, don’t over do it.

– The dialogue should be realistic and interesting. I admit that this is not one of my strengths. Your dialogue should be believable in the context of the story. It should sound normal and flow easily. You must keep clear who is saying what because it is very annoying for a reader when he or she gets mixed up.

– Keep vulgarity to a minimum. Don’t use cuss words unless you absolutely have to in order to get a point to the reader or if the character requires that. Describing love scenes can be tricky and becomes vulgar if you are not careful.

– Create complex characters. I can’t stress this enough. The difference between a good writer and a bad writer is most evident in their choice of characters for the story. Try to stay away from one dimensional characters such as the evil man who does nothing but bad things and the hero whose only goal is to save lives and be a good man! Humans are much more complex than that and you should make your characters multidimensional and as the reader flip through the pages, he gets to learn more about them and connects to them.

– Balance your descriptions. Describing anything too much can be irritating to the reader and describing too little can make the reader unable to imagine what is going on and subsequently disengage from the story. It’s a hard formula to master. Use details when you want the reader to feel intimate with the place and what is going on or when it’s an unusual place and the readers need further description. You can skip describing some major elements when you want the reader to picture the surroundings in their own way instead of being restrained by your view. There is nothing exactly right or wrong when it comes to this. It all depends on your personal taste.

– If you don’t have a plot, you don’t have a story. The plot is the most important component of any story. A good plot can make people read your story even if you didn’t abide by all the rules above! There’s nothing really to instruct here. It just needs to be interesting. It has to have the reader waiting to see how the characters develop, how the events play out and how everything comes together in the end. It’s best if you keep your ending unpredictable but don’t force it. It’s fine to have a predictable ending as long as the story itself makes you want to know how did it come to that particular ending.

– Once you’re done with your story, leave it aside. Hide it away in a drawer and forget about it for a couple of weeks or months then read it again. I assure you you’ll find many things that you want to change, mistakes you haven’t paid attention for, some weird contradictions, a confusing time line and such things that you can only spot once you have managed to get the story out of your head and read it as if you’re reading a new novel for the first time.

That is all I have in my mind right now. I hope this will benefit someone someday. The best of luck to all aspiring writers out there!

21 thoughts on “How to Write a Good Story”

  1. nice work u’ve done here bassem..
    I agree with everything you’ve said
    and if I may add another thing I’ve learned:
    – when you write a story, poem, essay or whatever in ENGLISH, think in ENGLISH. Many people make the mistake of writing in one language but arrange their thoughts with another ( in our case mostly Arabic ), because the way things are comprehended in English is very different that in Arabic. And also make the words come out spontaneously, don’t over think because it be comes very obvious to the reader that they’re faked.

    I say this although I love to write in Arabic more than English, but still the basic rules are the same.

    thanks Bassem 😀

  2. These are really good points. I admire your writings and have always wondered whether you’ve taken creative writing classes. I’m now surprised 😀 mashallah 3laik, where did all this come from?
    Good luck and 3ogbal ma we see you all published and book-tour-y 🙂 (I made that word up lol)

  3. Aaliya, your point is very true! I’m going to add it to the list today inshallah. That is a common mistake indeed. I myself find myself unawaringly falling in it when I write in Arabic. When you look at my early Arabic writing experiments you can tell that something feels weird lol My thoughts are constructed in English rather than Arabic. Thanks

    manutdfanatic, something’s funky with your blog. It was closed off for a while and now it only has a few posts. I just want to say these posts of yours are brilliant mashallah!

    his sweetheart, 🙂

    Hind, lol that’s a very sweet compliment ! Thank you
    well as I said, just reading a lot ever since I was a kid and experimenting with writing in addition to googling creative writing hints and tips!
    wo ameeeeeeeen!

  4. Yes, we had The Saudi Book Club but then both myself and the co-creator “Mochness” lost interest and got busy. It got ignored and then after a while we decided it was time for merciful death lol
    It was good while it lasted 🙂
    There’s another book club now running by new faces

  5. thank u my mentor 😛 and writing guru
    i’ll make sure i’d apply them next time inshallah..
    cuz all these stuff r easily said than do :/

  6. morning dew, Khaled Hsseini is a doctor? Now that’s new information! I love his books

    supersizeme, glad you think so ! You’re welcome

    H, well he seems something. Gonna check the website.

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