567 Ways To Tell A Better Story

English: The church of St Martha-on-the-Hill i...

English: The church of St Martha-on-the-Hill in Surrey, England. The church is dated to the 12th century and is dedicated to Saint Martha (sister of Mary & Lazarus.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people consider it bad form to slap a priest or pull a rabbi’s beard. They aren’t real keen on your telling Sister Mary that she has a rack that was made for sin and or suggesting that you can help her see god.

In theory these should be things that would get you in a lot of trouble but some of us have a silver tongue and manage to find ways to convince people that what we have done really wasn’t all that bad. The thing is that some of us find it impossible to accept that we got away with something so we keep pushing the envelope because we can’t help but wonder where that line in the sand is going to be drawn.

Well let me help you with that. You can’t kick the rabbi’s dog nor can you take Sister Mary’s cat and throw it in a swimming pool…without consequences that is. Sure, you can try. You can claim that the little rat dog tried to bite you and maybe get away with that, but you can’t convince Sister Mary that you were trying to give Whiskers a bath.

That is because no one bathes a cat by stuffing it into a sack and then throwing it into a swimming pool. It just isn’t done, but then again most people can’t say that they slept with Sister Mary either. But I am not most people and I know Sister Mary in the biblical sense of the word.

So you see I am not lying when I say that I can make Sister Mary see God because I have done it…many times and in lots of different places. My favorite place was always in church. You might think that church would have a negative impact upon Sister Mary and her ability to perform, but the exact opposite was true.

The last time we did it Father Pete almost walked in us. I told Sister Mary that would have made one hell of a confession. She laughed and then demanded that we do it in a synagogue. I am a good Jewish boy so I made a point to help her feel like I was an equal opportunity fornicator. Didn’t matter to me whether it was in church or synagogue- either place was good for me.

567 Ways To Tell A Better Story

I suppose that you have figured out that those words above do not contain 567 ways to tell a better story.  Truth is that when I started writing I had no idea where I was going or what I intended to do with the tale I was telling.

I just knew that I wanted to participate in Just Write #36  and Yeah Write #58.  So I figured that I would open up the old melon and see what came spilling out. I thought about using 7 Things You Never Say To Mean Moms as my Yeah Write entry. I figured that most of the participants would be familiar with mean girls, but I couldn’t do that this time.

Nor did I want to run with A Letter To My Children-2012 because it was too serious. What Is The Value of A Comment? didn’t work because it was a good post that stood on its own. I almost used I Wish Some Of You Would Just Shut Up because I think many people can relate but then I decided I wanted to just write and see what happens.

And here we are.

A Better Story

I kind of like the story I started this post with and I hope that you do too. I hope you do because it provides validation that I am on the write track, but I am pretty confident. A good story doesn’t have to be original. People keep saying that they really like this tale and there is nothing unusual about it. It is just a story about a boy who loved a girl and the girl who once loved him back.

People like those stories. They want to know if the single mom and single dad can find love again. More importantly they want to know if lightning strikes twice.

The reason that story works is because they identify with the characters. They know what it means to suffer heartbreak and to love so deeply it hurts. The moms and dads who read this like the comfort it provides because there is something nice about knowing that maybe there is a chance that the one who got away might come back again.

But the motor that moves this monster isn’t love or the idea of being in love. It is the ability to relate to the characters as a whole. When Jack says he aches and he burns for Ann people get it and even if they don’t they wish they did.

To be fair not everyone likes those stories. Some of them hate it, but even those who do can follow the story. They can relate to some portion and or piece of it because it is a human experience and that is what people are looking for.

People love the Lord of the Rings because there is a world of magic and mystery. They like to imagine what it would be like to be with the elves in Rivendell but the real thing that captures their attention are the characters and the relationship between them.

If you want your readers to love your stories find a way to build those connections and to show the relationships between your characters. Set a scene that provides enough detail for their imagination to picture it and then get out of the way.

What do you think?


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  1. kdwald May 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I guess that explains the furor over that horribly written trilogy about characters that everyone *wants* to make connections with all evening long.

  2. DudeOfTheHouse May 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    That was quite a yarn you spun, Jack. Now where’s the rest??

  3. kiddiepoolmommy May 23, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Love the story at the beginning. Very “readable”. Nice flow and the narrator catches my attention.

  4. SensibleMoms May 23, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Connections are the key to just about everything, eh? Fun story. Ellen

    • TheJackB May 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm

       @SensibleMoms Hi Ellen,
      Connections make a world of difference. I used to think that talent was the most important thing in the world but I have since changed my mind.
      It is important, but so are luck and being able to connection with people. Connect with people and good things will happen.

  5. Katie May 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I really enjoyed the story at the start! It flowed well and the voice was electric…nicely done!
    I agree completely. Bridging the gap between you and your readers is key…making them connect with your words and your characters is a great way to be successful. 

    • TheJackB May 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm

       chicknoodlegrav  Thank you. I am thinking about trying to turn that story into something more, but I admit part of me is tempted to let it sit.
      Why? Because I don’t want to mess it up. Some things are better left untouched, but ultimately I expect I will go back. Will be hard not to.
      Can’t hurt practicing to continue to bridge that gap.

  6. B4Steph May 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

    I rather enjoyed the nun having sex in the church. Having attended Catholic school for 12 years I like to imagine they’re capable of having a good time, not having witnessed that in my experience. But the animal stuff, can’t kick a dog no matter who it belongs to or drown a cat. Anyway, I take your point and its a good one…let your imagination soar. Nicely worded.

    • TheJackB May 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm

       @B4Steph A little nunsense is good for the soul or so I like to think. I expect that many people are fine with sex in church, but kick a dog and all bets are off.

  7. mayorgiac May 22, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Ha, I like your story – I agree, I was drawn to the characters

  8. Jens May 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

    It’s always the characters that fascinates me, and the connections. It doesn’t have to be a mystery, as long as the story fascinates me. I’m fascinated by a lot of things, and especially by characters.

  9. Faryna May 22, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I’m listening to Night Ranger’s song, Sister Christian… [grin]
    Reminds me of something a real live Sea Captain said to me sometime last summer at a Jazz Festival:
    “Christian, Mulsim, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, or whatever… if it’s crushable, it should be crushed.”
    I’m talking about story-telling, of course.

  10. CarrieSieffert May 22, 2012 at 7:12 am

    I think your story was intriguing because the narrator seems like a psychopath. His draw towards violence and animal torture helps to establish a character that seems wholly unbalanced. I’m not sure if the nun was just mentally manipulated by him or if she truly loved him. Anyway. I know thats not exactly what you were trying to tell with your story but that’s the genius of short stories. People get to decide for themselves! 🙂

    • TheJackB May 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

       @CarrieSieffert Hi Carrie,
      A big part of what I love about writing is trying to find a way to tell a story and then let the reader run with it. Our imagination is so very powerful that if we can tap into it I think good things happen.
      As I was writing it I wanted to create a character who was sort of tap dancing between being normal and being broken. I thought it might be kind of interesting. But I also thought it might be neat to try and add some layers that could be removed and or adjusted.
      Maybe we take out the animal torture but keep him walking down a path of being a loose cannon. Don’t know, just like having fun.
      But like you said, people get to choose for themselves and that makes it much more interesting.

      • CarrieSieffert May 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm

        I wouldn’t want you to take out the cat. Short stories I think are an even better read when you do something completely unexpected. Having a character perhaps without morals or conscience – interacting with a character that is fully moralistic and even dedicated to God can reveal so many brilliant parallels. I personally think you should lean more towards bankrupting his character and embellishing hers.Either way your story has so much potential and so many ways you can take it. I really liked it as is or editted to your hearts content 🙂

  11. Michael May 22, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Couldn’t agree more Jack. Great post!
    I love stories with characters who are slightly flawed or over come a problem that reveals something about themselves they didn’t know they had inside of them. Those types of characters are fun to follow because we can relate to them in some way. 
    I love the “a-ha” moment they have and how it immediately impacts their actions or changes their thoughts. In my opinion there’s nothing more powerful than a person’s ability to change when they change their thinking, if only for a moment.

    • TheJackB May 22, 2012 at 8:29 am

      We are on the same page. I want the hero to have a tragic flaw or two. Sometimes I like to see them fail to save the day. It is real and it makes it much more interesting.
      That A-ha moment can be quite powerful.

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