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Ghostwriter Scott Sery writes a great story

How You can Make Your Story Pop

Want to know why the story in your mind, which feels like a really amazing story filled with wonder, whimsy, and awe, falls flat when you tell others?  It’s not that the story isn’t great to begin with, it’s all in the delivery.

As you remember the details, your brain is filling things in without you really knowing about it.  Suppose you’re relaying the events about how you survived a car wreck essentially unscathed; you talk about the tires blowing, the glass shattering, and the crunch of the metal as your car flips and skids over the pavement before smashing into the concrete barrier.  What doesn’t get told, however, are all the seemingly superfluous details.  The flock of birds that scattered from a nearby tree, the sun shining brightly overhead without a cloud to be seen, the green Honda that passed you moments before, Brittany Spears’ “Baby One More Time” playing on the radio… they don’t seem important to the actual wreck, so they don’t get included.

But making that story pop starts long before you start telling the details.

Tip One - Determine the Intent Behind the Story

What's the intent behind your story? Scott Sery the Ghostwriter will help you figure that out

Being able to tell the appropriate details all revolves around what you want the reader to take away from your book or story.

For instance, if I’m writing a how-to guide called Unknown to Unstoppable for a commercial real estate agent, and I’m explaining how to take a brand-new business from nothing to one of the top-producing agents in the state, I don’t need many of those details.  As Joe Friday, from Dragnet, would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”  We need a personal story of how the idea was discovered, implemented, and perfected, but we don’t need to know that he ate Cheerios for breakfast, drove his Toyota truck to work (at 4.5 miles per hour over the speed limit), or anything else.

The intent behind that story is to help others figure out what to do, and then do it.

However, what if I’m writing an autobiography?  Such as the story about Shane Fichter, drug addict who grew up in poverty and eventually turned his life around after realizing his destiny wasn’t set in stone.  In that case, I need more details.  The look and feel of the dingy apartments he lived in, the musty smell coming from the nasty old carpet, the dishes piled high in the sink with a used needle lying on the counter.

The intent behind this story is shock and awe, but also to inspire because it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can make great things of your life.

Tip Two - Decide Which Action You want the Reader to Take

Where can I find a ghostwriter? Scott Sery is one and will help you!

When you’ve determined the intent behind the story, now you have to figure out what action you want your reader to take.

Keep in mind that even if you’re writing fiction, you want a reader to take action while reading and after finishing the book.  Sometimes that action is merely to sit back and say, “Wow, that was amazing!”

If you’re writing non-fiction, you want to use the copywriting principle, “Begin with the end in mind.”  What’s your call-to-action going to be?

Some of the self-help and auto-biography style books may have an action of feeling inspired.  You want people to put down the book and go out to do better and be better.

Others might be wooing the reader in to sign up for their training course, or follow the author on social media, buy a product or check out the other books.

What if you’re not writing a book?  What if you’re creating emails, blogs, or other short-form copy?  You might merely be looking to create a memorable experience.  Something that makes people enjoy what you have to say – humor is often used for this because as my friend Mike used to say, “The funny is what gets remembered.”

Long before you type the first words, determine the ultimate action the reader will ideally perform.

Tip Three – Throw in Random Details

Use random details to give your great story some more oomph, Scott Sery the ghostwriter does this

The details need to be accurate, of course, but they aren’t essential to the story.  What these random details do is build trust and give credibility without sounding like they’re forced or out of place.

Remember the movie Finding Nemo?  Remember when Dory and Marlin are chasing after the boat that captured Nemo and they find the mask that says, “P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney”?  There isn’t really a solid reason that they needed the entire address like that, other than to add some details to make the movie more memorable.  Yes, it played into the fact that the duo had to make their way to Sydney to find Nemo, but it would have worked out just as well with “Sydney” or “Sherman, Sydney” or “XYZ Diving Rentals Sydney Australia.”

Have you read a book where they mention a town or a city?  In Ernest Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms, the characters travel along Lake Maggiore as they attempt to flee the war and make their way into neutral Switzerland.  They spend time in a handful of small Italian and Swiss villages as the plot develops and plays out.  These are all real places, the descriptions are accurate, and the idea that someone could row (in the middle of the night) from village to village becomes even more real when these seemingly trivial details are included.

In the book The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller, the characters are living in a sort of post-apocalyptic Colorado.  Similar situations happen where they travel from one small town to another.  If you look up the towns, you’ll find distances and locations are accurate.

When you’re writing, when you are adding to your story, these details give your words a bit more weight.  They create a more realistic story, and help to draw the reader in.

If you’re struggling, consider using numbers to enhance what you’re talking about.  For instance, “He worked long days.” Can become, “He worked manual labor for 14 hours every day through the summer.”  Instead of “A few miles down the road.” You can say, “7.5 miles south of his location.”  It’s not, “At a young age.” But instead, “At the age of 11.”  Instead of, “Few writers agree…” you say, “Only 17% of writers agree.”

Tip Four – Make up Some Dialogue

Creating dialogue breaks up monotony and makes your good story great, these are the words of acclaimed writer Scott Sery

If you stop to think about it, dialogue in any book – fiction or non-fiction – is almost entirely unnecessary.  Most of the information that needs to be relayed from the author to the reader can be done without writing the actual conversation between people.  This is especially true in non-fiction books.

However, that dialogue serves three important purposes.

1 – Dialogue breaks up the monotony of narration.  I recently read an autobiography book that had absolutely no dialogue in it.  I didn’t realize it until I was three quarters of the way through the book, and I was able to pinpoint why everything just felt weird – it felt off.

2 – Dialogue will help the author explain what’s going on, without having to explain what’s going on.  This is often done very poorly.  You see it toward the end of a novel, when the villain is making their final hurrah and appears to be just about to beat the protagonist.  They have them tied up, the slow-moving laser is going to cut them in half, and they have this long conversation that wraps up all the loose ends that the author wasn’t able to weave into the story.  Done properly, you don’t get this feeling that loose ends are being rushed and tidied up.

3 – Dialogue gives credibility to your writing.  This is a funny one, but it plays with human psychology.  I could write a narrative about how I won all sorts of awards, or how I’m so great, or how I’m awesome.  And people read it and think, “Yeah, yeah, bragging about himself.”  But if I include some dialogue, perhaps the announcer giving an award, or perhaps the dialogue on a phone call where I (really my character) receive praise, suddenly I’m not bragging.  It’s the same story, and the dialogue can be entirely fabricated, but it gives my story more credibility.

There are times when you can’t include verbatim dialogue.  Even if the conversation happened yesterday, unless you have a recording, you’re not going to remember the exact conversation.  However, your non-fiction story doesn’t become fiction because the words aren’t entirely exact.  The goal is to relay concept.  In fact, if you wrote the entire conversation exactly how it was spoken, it would read terribly.  We don’t speak like we write – there are tons of choppy sentences, interruptions, half-spoken words, hard to understand slang, mumbling, and more.

I’ve used the dialogue technique in a number of the books I’ve written.  They spice up the story, and in the case of ghostwriting for an accountant, they make the story in his book 800 Days come alive.  How do you make a book about numbers, accounting, and math more relatable?  You put in some dialogue.

Tip Five – Do Your Research

Doing research adds credibility to your story, Scott Sery the ghostwriter says so.

Fiction writers will often get this one done the right way.  Researching an area where their story takes place means they can have every little nuance and detail described perfectly.  Some will spend weeks, or even months, in a small town just to get the feel for the area.

When you’re creating a back story for your book, you don’t have to make up facts.  Just a little bit of research will help give your story that pop, describe the set-up, and you don’t have to fudge any actual facts.

Part of my job is writing family stories for a neighborhood magazine.  Nearly every family I talk to that has agreed to have their story shared, tells me, “We’re super boring, I don’t know what you’re going to write about!”  I always laugh and tell them they have a story in there, we just need to find it and pull it out.

One of those families took a little bit of outside digging to really get the backstory.

The couple met later in life, they weren’t childhood sweethearts or anything like that.  I believe it was each of their second marriages where they combined their families into one.  When I asked about how they met, the wife’s response was merely, “Well, we both grew up in the same small town.”  As the interview went on, I circled back around to that question, and I just kept getting the same response without details.  I tried to see if there was a community event, family picnic, ho down, or something where they would have caught each other’s eye at some point, but they just kept saying they grew up in the same small town.

So, I looked up the town.  I looked up what it was known for, what went on in the town, and I learned that the population had hovered around 500 or 600 people for several decades.

It was just enough details where I could create a backstory about growing up in a small town.  One where everyone is your neighbor, and without even trying you meet the entire town.  Two adults, even if they weren’t in the same grade, knew all about each other’s childhoods because they grew up in that small town.

If you pay attention to stories, fiction or non-fiction, you’ll see some of these back stories that include details that could apply to any character.  I could use the same introduction about growing up in a small town, with any couple that’s now married and living in a bigger city – merely change the names, and the well-researched story now applies to an entirely new set of characters.

Tip Six – Read it Out Loud

Read your great story out loud says Scott Sery Ghostwriter from Billings Montana

When you’re writing, your brain is rapidly filling in the details around an event that you experienced.  So rapidly, and so behind-the-scenes, that you don’t even realize that you’re filling in all of those details.

Consider back to the opening story to this post.  When I was 16 years old, I was in a major roll over car wreck at highway speeds.  I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt, and I was ejected from the vehicle.

Those two sentences, and my mind filled in all sorts of details that make the story shocking.  I filled in the details about the make and model of the vehicle, the tire blowing, the thumpity thumping of busted pieces of rubber hitting the wheel well, looking over at my friend’s terrified face, the feeling of my body hitting the ceiling, then the floor, then the ceiling… closing my eyes and opening them as I’m halfway out of the vehicle falling to the ground.  As the reader, you didn’t get any of that and my story would fall flat because I don’t realize how many details are missing.

When you read your work aloud, however, your mind is forced to focus just on the words being read.  You don’t get as much of an opportunity to fill in the gaps with added details, and you can start to notice things that don’t seem to fit together just right.

This is especially important when you’re writing an autobiography – a developmental editor (or at least a beta reader) can help you pinpoint areas that don’t make any sense.  For instance, I helped Dave Nordel with his book When the Cows Lie Down.  As an Air Force veteran, he makes references to aspects of the military that those who haven’t served wouldn’t fully understand.  I was able to highlight sentences and paragraphs and say, “This needs more details for those who haven’t had the same experiences.”

Your Story is Good; It Can Be Great!

Everyone has a story.  With proper storytelling it can be a good story.  But with a little bit of work, attention to some details, and an understanding of what the intent is behind the story, it can be a great story.

So, what’s the intent behind this blog post?

Most people, even with proper training, will struggle to write a great story.  It’s in their head, but it loses something as it transfers to paper.  If that’s you, then we should talk.

I’m a ghostwriter.  I help people take that good story and turn it into a great story.  I can help you.  Shoot me an email, follow me on LinkedIn, or schedule a time to chat about your goals, and let’s see you become a published author.

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