Seven Simple Ways to Make a Good Story Great (Elizabeth Sims)

Whenever I think of the word gatekeeper, a little film clip from The Wizard of Oz starts up in my head, where the fearsome palace guard denies Dorothy and friends access to the Wizard. “The Wizard says, ‘Go away!’”

If aspiring authors are Dorothy, agents and editors are that guy. They seem bigger than you. They give stern lectures.

Except remember what happens? Dorothy’s sob story melts the mustachioed, bearskin-hatted guard’s heart, and he winds up letting them in. Thus the great secret is revealed: You don’t have to do anything but tell a fabulous story to make them love you.

This quote is from an article by Elizabeth Sims ( that I came upon this morning while writing. It really made me think.

Her advice, while not really all that simple, is essentially this:

1) Go beyond the five senses (into detail re body language)

2) Explore idiosyncrasies (make your characters weird, but believably weird)

3) Forget about being pretty (gritty is good)

4) Be true to your IQ (don’t write down to readers)

5) Use your best material only when it has a purpose (Throwing in random bits is a bad habit of mine)

6) Make them laugh (I struggle with this one – I’m just not that funny, but she suggests writing in some small believable incongruities)

7) Make them cry (I cry easily – I’m still wiping my eyes while editing my WIP (for the 1000th time)

I just finished two great books by Canadian, Brian Doyle – Boy, O’Boy and Pure Springboth of which feature the same character – Martin O’Boy. His writing reminds me a bit of Mordecai Richler, partly because the books are set in Montreal in the 1940s.  Doyle is a master at weaving in bits and pieces which later become significant. This is one of the hardest parts, for me, of writing a novel.

How do you deal with structure – do you just start writing and figure it out after you’re half-way through (like me!), or do you outline, keep detailed notes of how the story will all resolve itself in the end? Always so much to learn…