Monday, 4 April 2011

Ten Tips for a Great Story: Guest Post by David Baboulene

Today I have the pleasure of announcing a guest post from writer David Baboulene, as part of his blog tour. I recently read David's The Story Book, a fantastic guide for writers and storytellers, and I'm thrilled to have him here.

A big thank you to David for this post!


The Top Ten Tips to Make Stories that Grip!

In my work I have been fortunate to have conversations with famous people who have made their money from stories, including:
  • Bob Gale (scriptwriter of Back to the Future);
  • Lee Child (16 million Jack Reacher Novels sold);
  • John Sullivan (TV comedy writer of Only Fools and Horses; Just Good friends; Citizen Smith…);
  • Mark Williams (Actor in The Harry Potter films; Shakespeare in Love; 101 Dalmations...);
  • Willy Russell (Theatre supremo and writer of Educating Rita; Blood Brothers; Shirley Valentine…)
to name but a few. So, from the insights from these fine gentlemen, from my own experiences getting published, my work as a story consultant, from working on films and from undertaking my PhD in Story Theory, and of course in writing and researching The Story Book, here are my top ten tips for writers.

1) If you want to be a writer, read a thousand books.

2) Write every day. Make it a priority, build it into your schedule and discipline yourself to it. Set yourself a manageable word count and make sure you achieve that. Stephen King reportedly writes 2000 words a day, every day. Sunday, Christmas Day, his birthday - every day. And when he finishes a book, if he's only done 1500 words of his daily count, he gets a clean sheet of paper, writes 'Page 1' at the top, and starts the next one. Self-discipline, folks. Yes, being a writer is glamorous to talk about and a romantic place for dreamers, but the ones who make it in this business work very hard, are professional and productive.  

3) Don't try to learn 'how to write'. No course or method or guru can tell you how to write. There's only one person who can tell your story your way, and that's you. Those who find success have self-confidence in writing what THEY think is great. Yes, learn about STORY - where the power comes from in stories, how they work, why they exist, how they resonate, what factors are present in all great stories - then use that understanding to get the most you possibly can out of yourself as a story teller. Then you can use your personality and your knowledge to take responsibility and write your story YOUR way to the best it can possibly be.

4) Understand story structure, but structure is NOT a starting point for story development, so don't let it drive you. Let your creative brilliance run wild and free and write from the heart in creating your story, then later, use your understanding of structure as a fantastic tool in problem-solving and optimizing your story.

5) Most of all, understand SUBTEXT. And understand the creative behaviours that embed subtext. Subtext is the substance of story. If you have no subtext you have no story. The more subtext there is, the higher a story is rated by the audience. Fact.

6) Stories are about character behaviours. Don't think about 'plot' and 'character' as separate things. What a character does when he takes action will define his true character, and what a character does when he takes action will also provide the action. Character behaviours define both plot and character. Get this right, and your story telling will be tight, cohesive and superb.

7) All the greatest stories show us a character learning and changing and growing through the experiences of the story events (or failing to learn and grow, but the lessons are still evident to us as readers/viewers). Try to ensure that at least one character is offered the opportunity to climb the ladder of life. You will find that this is actually your real story, and this is what resonates with your readers and elevates your story.

8) True character comes only from putting your protagonists under pressure to make difficult decisions. For a mountaineer to climb a mountain might be a huge challenge, but  he'd be delighted to do it, so the conflict is not meaningful and therefore the story is not meaningful. For a mountaineer to climb a mountain to save a stranded friend... risking his own life whilst his children are begging him not to go and his wife says she’ll leave if he does... that is a story. Sit your characters on the horns of a dilemma wrapped in a choice of evils and sandwiched between rocks and hard places and your readers will be gripped...

9) It's really important to learn to handle rejection (there WILL be rejection...) otherwise you will never send anything off. I know many, many writers who develop their stories... then develop and develop some more... because they are so scared of the Judgment Day that comes the moment they admit it’s finished. There's no easy way. You have to grasp the nettle and get on with it. Put your ego to one side (the vast majority of rejections are nothing to do with your ability or the literary merit of your story); dig deep, be strong, and put it out there. When I asked John Sullivan for his advice for aspiring writers he gave me this series of steps that should define a writer’s life:

    A) Write the best stuff you can.
    B) Send it off.
    C) Go to A.

It ain't rocket science! But you do need to be brave, or else you won't get anywhere. As soon as your material is good enough, you WILL be recognised... and you WILL get a deal! And I promise you - once you’ve had 10 rejections, the 11th doesn’t hurt so bad!  

10) If you would like more detailed information on any of the above, get in touch with me and I will send you a free chapter from The Story Book on the topic that is puzzling you.

Very best of luck with your work. Oh, before I go, I think there might be just one more tip we could all benefit from...

11) Get off the internet and go do some writing!

Thanks so much to Sangu for the opportunity to contribute to this wonderful website.



  1. #5 (understand subtext) is something I'd never really thought about before - but usually the stories with the unspoken words are the ones that stay with me the longest.

  2. Fantastic tips! I like the learn by doing theory. You can read all the books in the world, but ultimately you just have to write!

  3. Hey Sangu! Yours is the featured blog today for E!

  4. Sangu, These are great tips from your guest post, will try and put some into practice! I definitely agree with number 11, time just flies when your on the net...

  5. The best advice..."get off the internet." Great guest post! This book is a must have!


  6. Great tips, I'm a new follower. =)

  7. I came over here from one of my favorite author's blog: Alex Cavanaugh. Glad I did. Beautiful blog. And it sounds like you're an excellent writer. Congrats on your upcoming book. It's one I think I would like to read. I love YA novels. So I'm now a follower so I'll know when it comes out--and so I can read other wonderful tips you have for writers.
    Ann Carbine Best’s Long Journey Home

  8. Hello, Sangu! I'm visiting from Alex's blog.

  9. A great set of tips! Thanks for hosting him...but you have said some very true words...Get off the internet and do some writing!