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The Sticky Story
by Emily Jean Carroll
What is a sticky story? A sticky story is the kind you want to write. I can think of three kinds.
You want your readers–beginning with the editor or publisher you send the story to–to turn page after page of your short story, chapter after chapter of your novel. You want it to be so exciting, so moving, so engrossing, so well written that your readers find it so sticky they can’t put it down.
Writing a sticky story is easy. You begin with a terrific hook, one that grabs the readers and holds their attention through the first few pages. You introduce your well-drawn, likable characters, you lay your plot, you place your setting and you let your readers know they are in for a great read.
You work the middle of your story so expertly that the tale unfolds as perfectly as an expensive paper fan. You include all the elements. You present conflict, and put in stumbling blocks for your characters to overcome. You build tension, you show your characters grow and mature, and you include minor characters and their problems as a bonus. You put in surprises, twists and turns that startle, amaze and delight you readers.
You build your sticky story through to an exciting ending. You tie up all the loose ends, stop writing when the story is told, and leave your readers wanting more.
That is the way one sticky story is written. It is a story so sticky the reader can’t put it down.
Another sticky story is one that presents characters of such qualities, be they good or bad, that they are remembered for years to come. They are vivid, full-bodied, endearing, or so dastardly that they are never forgotten.
This story has characters that stick in the minds of your readers.
We can picture characters in sticky stories so well that we’re often disappointed if a movie is made of the story and the movie version character is not the character we envisioned.
One sticky character I remember is one E. Annie Proulx created simply to give directions to her main characters in her book, THE SHIPPING NEWS. Her description of this very minor character was so complete and so vivid that I remember him today. Proulx created a character that stuck.
When you complete you own work, be it a short story or a novel length manuscript, try to put yourself in your reader’s place. Would the story capture you and hold your attention to the end? Would your characters seem real to you? Would they stick in your mind as if they were actual people you have met and are concerned about? Are they characters you would remember for years?
Ask yourself what you could do to strengthen your plot. Play around with “what if” scenarios. What if my character didn’t get the call about the accident until later? What if Susan didn’t want to marry Mark? What if there was a detour on their way that took them to . .? What if the baby turned out to be twins? What if . . .
Build your characters from birth on. Where did Susan grow up? What did Mark think of his father? Why does Susan chew her fingernails? Why can’t Mark make a commitment?
Your characters must have lived a complete life to be three-dimensional. Know who your characters are so they can be true to their background, to come to life in your story, to live on after the book is closed.
Take an old manuscript that didn’t quite turn out right, one that you gave up on, and try to make it a sticky story.
Oh. The third kind of sticky story? You probably have no trouble with that one. It’s the one you worked on while munching on that peanut butter sandwich . . . or was it that jelly doughnut?