Whatever your chosen format as an author – novels, short stories, essays, etc. – trying your hand at others is an excellent writing exercise. Here are six writing formats to consider.
If you are an author accustomed to writing in one genre, having a go at another can yield useful insights. In the same vein, if you prefer one format, say novels, trying other writing formats, such as short stories, can recalibrate your creative compass and help improve your main focus format.
Are you far enough along in your writing career to know what length work you excel at most? Trying a few different formats can be helpful and offer great practice if you want to build up to a book-length project.
If you are set on writing your first book, even a brief foray into shorter format projects can be useful. Writing a great book is not at all about the number of words with which you fill your pages. It’s about packing a punch with those words and making readers wish there were more when they get to the last page.
One way to get a feel for how to pack a punch is to experiment with shorter forms of writing. You have no extra words in which to develop characters, unnecessary subplots, or long passages dedicated to atmospheric descriptions of setting. You have no room for tangents.
Especially if it’s not your primary format, just do some “short-work” as throwaways or exercises. They can be as short as six words – how hard could that be?
1. Six Word Story
What does it take to pack in meaning? Try writing a six word story. Getting across a point in so few words is a real challenge. While difficult, shorter can mean you can try more. The ability to experiment mentally like this is invaluable.
In this fun format you literally only have six words to work with. Along with your select words, you can use punctuation to its best advantage. This is a very special format that takes a lot of skill. Six-word stories are a lot harder than you think to write. You have to set the stage for a story in fewer words than the length of most sentences.
You need a beginning, middle, end, and ideally a lot of tension. You need to set up and resolve conflict – at least you do to create a memorable six word story. If you want to read some good samples, go to the Six Word Stories website. Even if you don’t write any yourself, reading a bunch of them can hit home for what works and what doesn’t. Any of these stories could be the most distilled versions of books – like yours.
Can you describe your book in six words?
Writing poems is notoriously difficult. Writing poetic prose is almost as taxing. It’s all about word choice, arresting concepts, and few lines.
Are you one for straightforward language that gets the job done, or are you more of a poet at heart in your choice of words? Poetic prose is painstaking to write, and luckily not everyone needs to. Trying a bit of poetry is one way to see the other extreme if you don’t usually work there.
Trying to convey an idea through enriched word choices, no glue words, and a metaphoric narrative that packs an emotional punch can give you a new view on writing the text of your book.
A good poem has a takeaway message. It leaves a wafting emotion in its wake. Poems are not just beautiful, touching, or evocative strings of words. A memorable poem is a verbally expressed concept full of images.
Can a concept in your book be recast as a poem? Do you have parts of your book that offer potential material for poems? That is likely a good thing.
3. Flash Fiction
Flash Fiction lives on the short end of the short story spectrum, defined as “short short stories” or stories between 50 and 2,000 words (some definitions even list it as low as 1,000 words maximum). While still well short of a book, here you can at least use complete sentences in prose format.
Nothing hones your sense of logical flow and word choice than trying to pack a complete story into so few words. You need to get across just the essence to make it work.
If you’ve tried to write something this short, you know how much creative information-packing you need to do to produce anything worth reading. You have to be super selective in choosing what ground to cover. You still need a start, middle, and ending, each of which sucks away your word count.
Can you get away with just hints at backstory? Can you let the reader fill in much of the detail? Try chopping down one of the scenes in your book into a short story. Does it work? How might you change it? Do you have a series of short stories in your book or are they all tightly linked together, as a good plot should be?
4. Short Story
A short story has more breathing room than flash fiction, but is essentially the same, just longer. Writing a short story hones the skill of knowing where to dip in and out of a storyline. In a short story you really only have room for one key piece of the action. You might find your book idea isn’t weighty enough to carry that big a word count, but honed down, the idea makes a beautiful short story.
Many writers notoriously start with the short story format. Steven King did, as did Ray Bradbury, and look where it took them. The arc of a short story is easier to keep in your head.
A short story is also good to give to beta readers for feedback. It’s less daunting than a request to read a book draft. It’s also much easier to write a number of short story drafts just as an exercise. Or you can write, polish, and re-polish in the same amount of time it might take you to look over just one chapter in your book.
5. News Article
You might question why fiction writers should try to write non-fiction (or vice versa), but the value of doing it just once is in the comparison of styles. Having to tell a factual story is a very different from making one up. Getting the feel of working exclusively with facts can help a fiction writer develop complete details when creating a fictional environment. Plus, today’s good news articles have a narrative feel. They often focus on a particular person or place, and the use of creative non-fiction is growing.
Another benefit of writing a news article is it forces you to fill in the “five Ws and one H.” This is of course the “Who, What, What, When, Where, and How” of your story. Drop any one of them and you leave a pit for the reader to fall into. While this is crucial in non-fiction, where your aim is to get across the facts, the same holds true in fiction. Though, fiction writers sometimes purposely hold back on one or more of the Ws or your H. Doing so in an artistic manner can be exactly what gives your plot its beauty and intrigue.
You’ll also be forced to flip your usual fiction writing style to put a one sentence summary, or lede (or lead) at the top of your article. Getting these right and still easy to read is an art form in and of itself. It’s basically your article in one sentence, in case your reader gets called away before they digest the whole article.
Can you write a lede for your book?
6. Opinion Piece
This kind of writing forces you to find (and use) your voice. Opinions are what you want in your books. All your characters will need them, in their own flavors, and the overall book will have a feel to it that is an outreach of your beliefs as an author.
What do you think? What message do you want to send your reader? An opinion piece must be grounded on facts, but the message is all yours to sculpt. In that sense, they are the opposite of news pieces. Instead of withholding your opinion, you are making it the main show.
An opinion piece should be novel, or at least presented in a novel fashion, that is personal to you and not derivative of anyone else’s thinking. It must exhibit original thinking, just like a book or any piece of fiction.
So get to it, you’ve got some writing to do.
Poetry As A Writing Exercise
A Fun Way To Build Your Writing Muscles
Writing Intriguing Short Stories
Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing A Short Story
Tightening Your Story’s Cause And Effect Chain With “And So”
Categories: Good Writing Habits, How To Write, Inspiration, Writing Tips• Tags: advice for writers, bookbaby, creative writing, dawn field, fiction, fiction writing, good writing, great writing, how to write a short story, improve your writing, inspiration, tips for authors, writing exercise, writing muscles, writing tips• Permalink
About Dawn Field
Dawn Field has written 45 posts in this blog.
Dr. Dawn Field is a book lover interested in what makes great writing. After a 20 year career as a research scientist, her first book, Biocode, was published by Oxford University Press. Now a columnist of The Double Helix, Dr. Field is exploring new writing venues and writing a second book. Based in Virginia, Dr. Field is looking to collaborate with a range of fiction writers as a writing coach, editor, and consultant on the publishing process: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The very first thing you think of when someone mentions essay is that you have to make an argument, find evidence, and write it in a somewhat philosophical manner. But, it doesn’t always have to be like that. Did you know you can tell a story through essay? I’m talking about narrative essays, a unique style of writing that combines the best of both worlds: storytelling and essay composing. The chances are high you’ll have to compose this type of paper sooner or later, and when the time comes this post will come handy. Throughout this article, I’m going to show you how to create an outline for a narrative essay and make your professor or client happy with the quality of your work.
What is a narrative essay?
A narrative essay is defined as a type of writing wherein the author narrates or tells the story. The story is non-fictional and usually, deals with the writer’s personal development. Unlike in other essay forms, using the first person is acceptable in these papers. Narrative essays can also be anecdotal, experiential thus allowing writers to express themselves in a creative and more personal manner.
Despite the fact you’re telling the story through the narrative essay, you must not identify it with a short story. How? Short stories are usually fictional and allow essay writers to change the plot, add different characters or rewrite the ending in a bid to better fit the narrative. On the other hand, with these essays, the author is required to pull a cohesive narrative arc from memory and events that, actually, happened. Just like other forms of essays, this style of writing needs a thesis statement. In fact, the entire narrative in your essay aims to support the thesis you wrote in the introduction. As you already know, short stories don’t require thesis statement and you’re not required to prove anything.
Narrative essay structure
If you’ve never written a narrative essay before and you need help essay online at this moment you’re thinking how complicated it seems. The beauty of this writing style is the ability to get your point across through a story and it’s not that difficult when you know how to structure it correctly.
Just like with other types of essays, a functional outline is essential. That way you know what to include in different parts of the paper and everything it entails. I have created diagram below to help you out.
An intro isn’t just a small paragraph that you have to write in order to get to the “real stuff”. If an entrance of some amusement park isn’t interesting, you’d feel reluctant to go in. If the first chapter of the book is boring, you’re less likely to ditch it. Essays aren’t exceptions here, the beginning or starting point is essential. Introductions attract reader’s attention, makes him/her wonder about what you’re going to write next.
The introduction of the narrative essay is written either in the first or third person. It’s recommended to start off your work with a hook including some strong statement or a quote. The sole purpose of the hook is to immediately intrigue your professor, client, audience, and so on. As seen in the diagram above, after the hook you have to write a sentence or two about the importance of the topic to both you and the reader. Basically, this part has to be written in a manner that readers of the paper can relate to. You want them to think “I feel that way”, “I’ve been through that” etc.
The last sentence (or two) of your paper account for the thesis statement, the vital part of your essay. The reason is simple, the thesis informs readers about the direction you’re going to take. It allows the audience to tune into author’s mind. Since the primary purpose of every essay is to prove some point and your story is going to be told for a reason, the thesis cements your overall attitude and approach throughout the paper.
The introduction should be:
Now that your introduction is complete, you get to proceed to write body paragraphs. This is where all the magic happens, it’s the part wherein you start, develop, and end the narration. The number of paragraphs in this section depends on the type of narration or event you want to write about and the plot itself.
This segment starts with the setting or background of the event to allow readers to understand relevant details and other necessary info. Every great story starts with the background, a part where you introduce the reader to the subject. Make sure you enter precise details because that way the readers are more involved in the story.
Besides important details about the subject and event you’re going to describe through the narrative essay, it’s highly practical to introduce characters or people that are involved in some particular situation. Describe their physical and personality characteristics. However, ensure that characteristics you include are relevant to the essay itself. This is yet another point where narrative essay differs from the short story. When writing a short story, you get to include all sorts of personality traits to develop your character. Here, you only mention those that are important for your thesis and narrative. Instead of listing characters one after another, introduce them through the story. The best way to do so depends on the type of the subject or event you’re going to write about, different kinds of topic require a different approach. Regardless of the approach, you opt for to introduce characters, always stick to the “relevant characteristics” rule.
Short anecdote or foreshadowing, basically, refers to details establishing conflict or the stakes for people regarding some specific situation. This part is a sort of precursor to the onset of the event. Use these paragraphs to explain:
- How things started to happen
- What people involved (characters) did to reach the point where the event of your story was imminent i.e. point of no return
- Detailed description of the situation
- How you felt about everything
TIP: Bear in mind that this doesn’t, necessarily, have to refer to some unfortunate event with tragic consequences. You can use the same approach to writing about other kinds of situations that lead to a more optimistic outcome.
Logically, the event has to reach its climax, a breaking point of the story, which requires detailed description. Don’t forget to include emotions, how it made you (or someone else) feel. The climax should be accurate, don’t exaggerate and stray from the truth just to make it more interesting. Instead, make this part more vivid, include powerful words and adjectives to make readers feel the tension and emotions you experienced.
After every climax, there comes the resolution good or bad. This is the part where you write how everything resolved. Without this segment, the narrative would seem incomplete and your hard work would be ruined.
So, body paragraphs should contain the following qualities:
- Detailed descriptions
- Relevant details
- Accurate information
- Powerful adjectives to truly depict the situation
You finished the narrative and before you’re done with the writing part of the essay, it’s time to conclude it. Just like the intro, this paragraph also bears a major importance. The conclusion should provide moral of the story, reflection or analysis of the significance of the event to you and the reader. This is yet another opportunity to make readers relate to your paper. Use this segment to describe what lesson you learned, how did this event affect/change your life, and so on. Depending on the subject, you could also include call-to-action to raise awareness of some growing issue in the society.
Dos and don’ts
- DO start your essay with a question, fact, definition, quote, anything that you deem interesting, relevant, and catchy at the same time
- DON’T focus only on the sense of sight when writing narrative essay, use all five senses, add details about what you heard or felt
- DO use formal language
- DO use vivid details
- DO use dialogue if necessary
- DON’T use the same structure of sentences, vary them to make the writing more interesting
- DO describe events chronologically (it’s the easiest way to tell the story)
- DO use transition words to make it clear what happened first, next, and last
Tips to remember
- The goal of narrative essay is to make a point, the event or story you’re going to tell needs some purpose
- Use clear and concise language
- Every word or detail you write needs to contribute to the overall meaning of the narrative
- Record yourself talking about the event to easily organize different details
- Don’t complicate the story; imagine you’re writing the narrative for a child. Would he/she understand the narrative? That always helps to simplify text
- Revise, modify, edit, and proofread
Narrative essays help you get some point across through storytelling, but you shouldn’t mistake them for “regular” short stories. I explained how to structure your work, differentiate it from short stories, and how you can easily develop your narration. Following the outline will help you write a high-quality essay and diagram from this article can serve as a visual clue you can use to compose your work. Start practicing today and write a narrative essay about some major event in your life. You can do it!
Image courtesy of Amra Serdarevich