It’s Christmas Day, so I thought I’d offer new fiction & memoir writers a little gift of ‘writing mechanics’ for the coming year of writing well.


* Frame the story [here, in a dream] the story keeps coming back to this dream, so it acts like a frame for the story being told:

In the dreams Mr. Arreaga, the old baker, acted like he didn’t hear the cracking sound in Raymond’s chest, like cartilage snapping.

* Have the narrator say the most important thing on their mind:

I know I’m dying.

* Again, Have the narrator say the most important thing on their mind but don’t use the word I, Me or My:

First thing in the morning they’ll be coming for Suzette and Daniel.

* Show the narrator’s frame of mind:

My voices are all on the inside, afraid to come out.

* Jump in in the middle, no overly long explaining:

First off, stop trying to figure out what started it all between the two of us.

* Tell us something provocative:

She sounded so damn good on the phone.

* Narrate, setting up a dilemma:

It took hours to find the exact shade of blue polo shirt he used to wear back when he was the assistant manager for the Globe Tire shop in Torrance.

* Open with a letter, email or blog post:

My Dear Little Girl, This is me, finally getting the courage up to write.

* Narrate, introducing a character who isn’t the narrator:

When we were both fifteen, Anna stood in the center of Pious X Girl’s Senior High quad, smiled, winked and started yelling.  Out came very cuss word that she knew or could make up for the occasion. Loud and clear so nuns for miles would hear, even the ones working at St. Linus’ on the next street over. 

* Start with a memory:

What I remember most from that day was his nails.  Thin bands of bone white, curt in length, like the words he had for my mother.  He found me in Granny’s sewing room, made up into a bedroom for me. 

* Open with conflict:

The guy at the back table, the one rustling his newspaper every five seconds, Bobby’d take him out first.

* Start with Sights/smells/sensations:

Crystal hadn’t opened her eyes yet when she smelled the stench. Roses. She hated roses. She peeked out from under the sheet and saw the huge glass vase on the night stand; looking rosy, smelling like death.

* Begin with a song reminding who/where/what:

The first time Pauline ever heard Rod Stewart sing “The Killing of Georgie” she was in the Fox Hills mall parking lot, waiting in the back seat of Vita’s white 69’ Impala.  It was Southern California, November 1976, she was 19 and she thought to herself: This is the best song Bob Dylan’s ever done.  

* Start with a point in the past that you will eventually return to:

It was January when Daniel said he didn’t want her to see him this way.  He told her to go.  Five months before he had to, he said leave.  He said it to save her.  Because if he had to watch her go through this, all the way to the end, then he’d have to see that it truly was the end and he was trying so hard to obscure the view.

* Begin with a description of an article that symbolically drives the story:

It was the most wonderful Christmas Gift: I’d never seen anything like it for real. I mean that I could hold, that was any chance of being mine. A red book with gold edging. Big. Like a pad of school paper Big. But this was fancy, a Writer’s book, he’d said. He’d pointed out the silver ribbon sewn inside, to keep your place. And the space on the first inside page for my name. Under the word JOURNAL.

* Straight narration setting state of character, time, place:

Terry's shoved me into the back seat of the Yellow Cab that's come to take us to the emergency room. My wrists sting, like jellyfish burns. The rest of me is numb. Even my brain is lighter, my ears clogged, like I'm underwater. It's far after midnight.

* Again, Straight narration setting state of character, time, place:

Third period, Welding, just before lunch.  Things had settled down now, here in the fifth week of class, the guys finally reached a saturation point of noticing a girl in shop. Boys. The drill presses and lathes where cake to figure out compared to boys.

(originally posted on the W P blog, E.J. Runyon's Author's Page, December 25, 2011)