No one has won a race without first learning how to take the first step. Writing is no different. Regardless of what you are writing, the basics are very important. If you think not the demented elves suggest you consult your editor on what he thinks about the matter. But what are the basics in storytelling? For the demented elves, it is grammar, spelling and word choice, and punctuation.
Grammar is something we as children have forced upon us when we believe it isn't that important. As storytellers, we like to excuse bad grammar because it is part of the story, but unless it is part of your dialog, bad grammar is bad grammar. People may not speak in complete sentences, but we do read in them. Nothing takes a person out of you story than poor sentence structure. If one has to read a sentence more than once, you have lost your audience. A well written sentence is key to telling a good story.
Likewise, spelling and word choice is very important. In the experience of the demented elves, a spelling error isn't always a misspelled word. Sometimes, a misspelled word spells another word that changes the whole sentence. For example, the tone between respectfully and resentfully (a time when a spelling error led to a spell check error) changes the entire sentence. ( WATCH OUT FOR SPELL CHECK AND AUTO CORRECT! These technologies are as much a hindrance as a help.) As for word choice, know the difference between words such as then and than, effect and affect, and other commonly confused words. Wrong word choices could make you look like you don't know what you are doing and there goes the audience, on to someone else.
Then again, one must not simply use punctuation, but must use the correct punctuation. The demented elves once read a book with no punctuation. To be honest, This elf never finished the book because it was too hard to read. One could never tell if one was reading action, description, or dialog. This made it difficult to know what was going on in the story and thus it was never finished. While the need for punctuation is important, it should be noted that incorrect punctuation is as bad as no punctuation at all. The wrong punctuation can change the entire meaning of the sentence just as the wrong word can. As the internet is fond of pointing out, there is a difference between "let's eat, Mom," and "let's eat Mom."
If you have difficulty with the basics, and even if you are not, it might be in your best interest to invest in a book on grammar. Even those well versed in grammar need to reference the rules from time to time. The demented elves believe it is better to check than to be wrong. A well written story is necessary for a well told story.
At any given time there will be any number of stories in books, on television, or on the big screen that appear to be exactly the same. The tendency is to believe that there are those ready to steal your work. The truth is, there are only so many story types out there. So when one movie about vampires comes out at exactly the same time as your vampire movie, what can you do? Simple, MAKE IT YOUR OWN.
What makes one movie stand out from another is not that it is the only zombie slaying, Bigfoot, romance, crime drama, it that when you create your story, it is your zombie slaying, Bigfoot, romance, crime drama. When you make it your story it becomes as unique as you are. The demented elves like to create new styles from old structures. An example would be, when challenged to write a Haiku poem, this poet wrote it about being hung over. Not exactly award winning material, but it brought a smile to a few faces. This isn't always going to get you the big bucks (OK, so it will most likely never get you the big bucks), but maybe by trying something different you might find your own voice. It is your own voice that makes or brakes your story. Once you find your own voice, keep working on it. The great story will sell, but first you need to find it.
The recent purchase of a new cellphone has brought the demented elves to a realization. One that will divert attention away from the storytelling process itself and address a common dilemma many writers have, most of us new writers that is: What app or software should I use?
When it comes to apps, one should use caution. This isn't just for writing apps, this the rule for any app will promise you the world, but many, especially the free ones, simply don't deliver. In fact, many do nothing. My suggestion to you is, read what they say it will do and then read the reviews. That will tell you if it is something you would use. A word of caution though, don't believe all the reviews you read since there are always sour grapes and those that don't like anything. I suggest you read all the reviews and look for common problems in each. In the end, you have to find what works for you.
When it comes to software, there is a lot out there, and depending on what you want to write depends on the software you need. Obviously, if you are simply writing letters, reports, or even magazine articles, all you need is a word processing program. For that matter, an old fashioned typewriter might suite your fancy. These are all items that do not require any specialized formatting or elements. If you are a writing a novel, you may wish to stick with the word processing; however, you have to work with what makes you happy. As for formatting software, the demented elves have one piece of advice: Test drive the different software using the demo programs before spending a penny. many are quite costly and it would be a shame to spend money only to find out it wasn't what you wanted. In regards to making any recommendations for software, the demented elves will not do so because each has something different to offer and it all is a matter of writer preference.
In the end, whether it is for learning to write or for formatting, one must find the apps and software that works for the individual. There is no one right way to do things (unless it is the format of the document itself). That said, remember buyers remorse can be painful so know what you are buying, even the free stuff. Just remember, there is no substitute for hard work, so there is no magic app (or software) that will write your story for you. Have fun with the programs, but put in the work.
A story without structure is like a house without a framework. It all falls apart. Structure is what keeps your story from getting muddy and confusing your audience. Regardless of what structure you use, you need some sort of skeleton to keep your story together.
I have read all kinds of books on plotting, structure, and story. All have different methods for completing a story. Some start with outlining while others start with character development, while others tell you to skip both. Yet all have the same basic structure designs.
No matter how you write your story, it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I should note that there are those that say that method is old and out dated; however, no matter what they wish to call their elements, all stories start somewhere, end somewhere, and along the way there is a middle of the tale. Without them, you have nothing.
Your beginning does not have to start at "the beginning." It could start in the middle of an event, say a bank robbery or an awards ceremony. It could even start before the beginning, say at the birth of the protagonist, even though the story takes place at the end of his life. No matter where your story starts, it has a beginning, and it tells us who, what, when, and where. This is where we get to know the score. It is the set up to the story. In short, your have to start somewhere and you have to make us care enough about this particular tale to keep up paying attention.
Likewise, all stories must have an ending. If your story simply ends with no conclusion, you will leave your audience dissatisfied. Happy or sad, your audience needs to know it is indeed the end of the tale. Consider this, if I said I got up and went to work, you can honestly say, "who cares!" You would want to know, what happened at work, what problems did I encounter, and how did I solve those problems. In your story, your ending is how your protagonist solved his problems or how he was overcome by his problems. An ending to a story is simply a conclusion, not when you choose to stop telling your story.
That leaves us with the middle. This is more than just the place between the beginning and the end. This is the heart of the story, the meat and potatoes. This is where many a story falls apart. This is where we need a little planning. I will say that, unlike the blueprints for a building, one can deviate from the outline, especially when you are inspired by an idea. However, that would require you to have a plan in the first place, and having a plan to deviate from will help your story from wandering away from you.
Now it should be understood that that this is the most basic of story structure. There are many other elements that go into a story. There are those we all know, and there are those that we may not be aware of, but that is for another day. For now, let us remember that the beginning is the set up, the end is the conclusion, and the middle is our story.
I read a book on screenwriting written by a gentleman who read screenplays submitted to the Raindance Film Festival. The author stated in all the submissions he had read, he never found a bad premise, only poorly executed ones. It is an interesting thought. To me this means that any idea, no matter how far fetched it may be, has the possibility of becoming a great story.
Consider the premise that a storyteller continued to tell stories to keep her husband from killing her the next day. You would have 1001 Arabian Nights. A very old story indeed. From that we get Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, not to mention Sinbad the Sailor, each its own story with its own premise, and one executed well enough that it has endured for hundreds of years. But what if we took the storyteller out of the Persian king's bedroom and placed it in the Soviet Union, in the Black Market, or on Mars? While each would be a variation of the same premise, it would provide all sorts of unique story lines, each with its own potential for memorable stories.
The premise, in and of itself, is merely a launching point for your story. How you develop the premise makes all the difference. Let us return to 1001 Arabian Nights. If the storyteller had been an old hag instead of a beautiful young virgin, perhaps the king might not have been enchanted with her long enough to hear the first story. Or what if she had been any enemy agent, or a man? Each one of these ideas might have worked for today's audiences, but in Persia hundreds of years ago, those story lines would be unthinkable. If we really wanted to get demented, one could make the beautiful young virgin a male enemy agent from Mars.
So it is down to execution. That premise alone, while demented, is not enough for a good story, but it does lend itself to enchanting possibilities; however, it is up to the author to develop what would happen. To a demented elf's way of thinking, take your premise and play a what if game. Consider different variables. Make it different, but also understand, premise isn't the story, it is the starting point.
I have often wondered how it is that some books are published. Even more so I wonder how some moves/TV shows get made. You read the book and somehow never manage to make it out of the first chapter, or you get up during the show and watch the commercials (say where is that remote anyway). Certainly they are not the edge of your seat story that sucks you in until you forget what time it is or that you have only three hours before you have to up for work.
So what is the difference? What makes one so boring you can't pick it up and the other one so exciting you are sorry when it is over? It is the story telling. Good story telling can overcome genre preferences, author biases, and even typos. For example, while I was working on a story on my iPad, I printed up a copy to share with my friends. Thanks to the app and auto correct, there were typos and missing words all over the place; however, because my friends were into the story, the only person to notice these errors was me. My friends were into the story. They wanted to know how it would end. They wanted to know about certain characters. They did not care that in was a "hot mess."
Books, movies, TV shows, and the lot, succeed or fail based not on the special effects (though some may argue that), the stars involved, or even the author himself, but rather how well the story is told. Sometimes, if the story is bad enough, it actually captures our attention on another level, perhaps the freak show level (or recent times, Sharknado comes to mind). Yet, for us as human beings, we need the story to entertain us and for us as writers, we need to perfect the art of story telling, to keep the interest of those we wish to entertain. So here's to perfecting our craft!