Great British Horror – Guest Blog – Michael Bray – How do you write a good story?
As part of the launch festivity blog tour, I have the pleasure of hosting Michael Bray, the fantastically talented author of Meat and Whisper.
I’ll shut up now, and let Michael let you in on some of his story telling secrets.
How do you write a good story?
The title of this blog is a question that I have been asked a hell of a lot over this last year or so. A lot of people who ask are just genuinely interested; a few are looking for some kind of ‘magic bullet’ or formula for success. Although I’m not an expert, I like to think that I can talk a little bit now about what works for me as far as storytelling goes. It might not work for everyone, and that’s fine. The fact is that writing is a subjective thing, and all writers have a different style and way of doing things to the way I do them, and thank god that’s the case, otherwise we would have a world full of identical books.
For me, the answer to writing a good story comes from reading good stories. There are tons of brilliant writers out there who know how to craft a hell of a tale. By reading as often and widely as possible, little snippets of how other writers compose their craft begin to resonate with you. You keep those things in mind when you sit down to commit words to paper of your own.
The other key to making a story pull the reader in, is characters. It may not be an opinion that everyone shares, but for me, without good characters, you don’t have a good story. I don’t care if you have the most exciting, twist filled plot in the world, if nobody gives a damn about the people living in the story, you have wasted both your own time and that of the reader.
So, how do we make our characters interesting?
There are a few ways we can go about bringing our protagonist to life and giving him those little traits which resonate with the reader. First up, try to avoid clichés. Don’t be tempted to fall into the trap of writing ‘easy’ characters that have little to no depth. Make these people multi layered beings. Give them personality traits, give them flaws. Give them real world problems that they struggle with just like everyone else.
Let’s try an experiment. Let’s say the protagonist for our story is called Billy. He’s a hard-ass. A former navy seal with a reputation for cracking heads. A loner, a man who will stop at nothing to get the job done. Cue worldwide disaster. Chaos. Billy grits his teeth and tools up, a one man wrecking machine determined to set the world to rights.
Not bad, but there is a familiarity to it. We know the type of character Billy is. It will be hard to empathise with him, harder still to emotionally attach ourselves to his story. Billy, frankly, is boring.
Let’s push reset for a second. Let’s see if we can rebuild Billy into someone with a few more layers. Firs toff, he’s not a beefcake or former navy seal. He’s a stick thin weakling. Maybe he is a shy, withdrawn computer programmer. He is afraid of heights, and because of a drinking and gambling problem, he is in debt up to his neck. Maybe his boss at work, who is much younger than poor Billy, is giving him hell, making him feel pathetic and worthless. When he gets home form the job he hates, his wife is much the same, treating him with resentment. He suspects that she is having an affair, and that’s okay, because he is too, but won’t say anything because of his kids – who he loves dearly and are the only thing keeping him going. Billy will of course still go on to save the world at the close of our story, but he will have to grow into the role. He will be afraid, he won’t know what to do, and at times, he will be tempted to just give up and save his own skin, but something in him, a glimmer of some deeply hidden determination to do whatever it takes to survive grows within him. He will go on this journey, one of self-discovery, and to do that, he will have to take us with him.
I don’t know about you, but I know which story I would prefer to read, and I’m pretty sure i know which one would draw me in and make me keep turning those pages. If you combine these deep, complex characters with a good plot and a well-paced story, then I do believe you have the answer to the question at the start of this blog.
Don’t be afraid to mix things up. Experiment and try different things, different traits. Look at people around you in the real world. Look at how they react. How do they behave in conversation? How do they stand, what kind of sense of being can you get from them? Use the world around you to shape the people who inhabit the stories, and right away you will find the entire process much more satisfying.
I hope this has helped those who might be struggling to make their characters stand out. If anyone has any questions, I’m always reachable via my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/michaelbrayauthor.
Feel free to stop by and say hi.
Michael Bray is a Horror author based in Leeds, England. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, and the trashy pulp TV shows like Tales From The Crypt & The Twilight Zone, he started to work on his own fiction, and spent many years developing his style. In May 2012, he signed a deal with the highly reputable Dark Hall Press to print and distribute his collection of interlinked short stories titled Dark Corners, which was released in September 2012. His second release was a Novella titled MEAT which was initially self-published before being picked up by J. Ellington Ashton Press. His first full length novel, a supernatural horror titled Whisper was also initially self-published, and following great critical acclaim, was optioned for a movie adaptation and sold to Horrific Tales publishing – his first Advance paying sale.
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