Monday, July 7, 2014

Boredom Busters #3: Action!

You've heard it before. Start your story in the middle of the action. No one wants to read a bunch of back story, a weather report, or a drawn out description of scenery on the first page of your novel. Instead, the reader wants to meet your characters, particularly your protagonist. They want to know what he or she is facing (also known as conflict). And they want a story that is going to move them to turn the page.

You'll want to start with a great hook, but that's not the focus of this particular post. The focus of this post is how to write an active story. This need not only apply to fiction writing, either. Every non-fiction book needs anecdotes, and these should be as active as their fiction counterparts.

Five ways to write an active story:

1. Use active verbs. Avoid is/was/were, to be, began, started, and other such boring verbs.

2. Don't tell us the ins and outs of your character's daily routine. Pick the important points and insert the daily routine into them.

3. Use dialogue that matters. Just as we don't need the nitty gritty details of your character's daily routine, we don't need all of the typical introductory dialogue like the hellos and goodbyes and okays we would normally use in conversation. What a reader wants is active dialogue, not the fillers.

4. Use the occasional dialogue beat to keep the action of the story moving while the characters are conversing. He said/she said tags are a good way to keep the reader moving down the page, but insert an occasional beat so they can keep up with what the character is doing.

5.  If you need to tell the reader something about your character's past (aka back story), include it in the conversation or as a brief thought your character has. Only tell as much as is absolutely necessary as it applies to the current moment in their life. If it isn't necessary, it's better to leave it out.

For example, your character is making her morning pot of coffee when she receives a life-changing phone call. 

Photo Courtesy of anyone71
Here's how not to write it:
When I was a little girl I always wanted to be a journalist. I'd loved doing research reports and writing a daily family news column that I would read to my parents at the dinner table each night. Dad had always supported my love for writing and had vowed to send me to college. He worked hard so that I wouldn't have to worry about anything and could focus on my studies instead of having to flip burgers to pay for college. Today I would graduate from journalism school, and next week I would begin my career at the local Times Union newspaper as a local news journalist. I couldn't wait to see my dad's face as I received my diploma. 
I woke up this morning and went to the bathroom, where I splashed cold water onto my face and brushed my teeth. Then I walked down the hall to the kitchen and turned on the water in the sink, filled up the coffee pot, poured it into the maker, got a filter out of the cover, and put the coffee grounds into the filter before I turned on the pot. While I was waiting for my morning pot of coffee to finish brewing, the phone rang and I answered it. It was my mom.
"Hello Mom," I said. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," Mom said.
I could tell by her voice that she wasn't okay.
"Are you sure?"
"Well, actually, I'm not. Your father died. He never woke up this morning."
I was trying not to cry. "What?" He was healthy yesterday.
"The paramedics think it was a heart attack. We won't know until the autopsy is finished."
Tomorrow would have been his fiftieth birthday.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I have to go."
"I love you honey."
"I love you too. Please call me when you know more."
"I will," Mom said.
"Okay," I said.
"Okay," Mom said.
"Goodbye Mom."
"Goodbye sweetie."
I hung up the phone. It started to rain outside. My coffee smelled good, but I wasn't sure I needed the buzz to make it through my day. But maybe it would comfort me instead. I took a cup from the cupboard. I poured the coffee. I added sugar and cream and stirred it with a spoon. Then I took a sip. I was going to puke.

How to write it:
Photo Courtesy of Intuitives
As I prepared my morning pot of coffee, the phone rang.
"Hey Mom!"
"Julie, I'm afraid your father and I won't be able to make your graduation this afternoon."
The high I'd woken with deflated. "Why?"
Mom's voice wavered. "Your..." She breathed deep.
"What's wrong, Mom?"
"Your father didn't wake up this morning."
A tear slipped down my cheek as the sun faded to a sky of storm clouds outside the kitchen window of my apartment. I couldn't breathe.
"I'm here. What happened?" I turned the coffee pot on.
"The paramedics think it was a heart attack. We won't know for sure until the autopsy is finished."
Not knowing what else to say, I told her I love her and hung up. I reached for my coffee cup, hand trembling as I held back the tears that threatened to flood my cheeks. As I pulled the mug from the cupboard, another crashed to the tile floor, breaking into a hundred pieces.
I bent over and let the tears fall. Lord, he was only fifty-five. We were supposed to celebrate tomorrow. Together. His birthday. My graduation. The career I always dreamed of. Why now?


Five Ways to Write an Active Story:  @AlyciaMorales #amwriting {Click to Tweet}

How to Bust Your Reader's Boredom: Write an Active Story @AlyciaMorales #amwriting {Click to Tweet}

Do you have any other suggestions for writing an active story? We'd love to hear from you!



  1. Thank you for the reminders and the examples.

    1. You're welcome, Lill! Thank you for stopping by!


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