Saturday, March 26, 2016


John M. Daniel’s Blog
March 26, 2016

Greetings! Welcome to The Joy of Story, my weekly blog in which I chat about writing, publishing, and enjoying stories of all kinds. This week I’ve chosen to review four essential ingredients of truly great stories. And even if you don’t aspire to true greatness when you write stories (for that matter, why aren’t you aspiring to true greatness?) these ingredients will help you have more fun while you’re writing, more pride when you’ve written, and more pleasure for your readers.

Bear in mind these aren’t the only ingredients you’ll need to make your stories as good as they can be. But they are among the top ten, and they’re high on the list.

1. Stories need plot, and plot means change. Something has to happen to someone in the story. That character, or those characters, will be different in the end from how they started out because of what’s happened to them in the course of the plot. Quite often that change is the consequence of a choice, although sometimes the change is a matter of unavoidable circumstance. Either way, the change is what makes a story a story.

2. Stories need conflict. Without a conflict, the piece of writing is not a story, but a simple sketch. Conflict is especially important in stories about relationship. The story of a couple in love only works when the couple must resolve, or fail to resolve, conflict.

3. Stories need to be important. Write something that matters. Even when you’re writing a fluffy story for entertainment value only, make it about some crucial aspect of the human condition. Make it meaningful. Write about love and death. A tall order? Maybe, but I assure you you’re up to it. One of the reasons you’re a writer is to discover truth and then to impart that truth to readers.

4. Okay, I hear you. You’re saying, “John, get off that high horse.” Right. Lighten up. Got it. A story has to have some sort of entertainment value. It must make the reader or the listener weep or laugh. If the story’s preachy and dry your audience will put it aside with a shrug. So make your stories enjoyable, even if you’re writing about heavy stuff. Hint: entertainment has a lot to do with style. Style is a whole new topic for another time.

Meanwhile remember, practice, and use the four essential ingredients listed above, and your stories will be well on the road. If you want an example of a novel that full of plot, conflict, importance, and yes, entertainment—in spades—read Susan Altstatt’s brilliant novel Belshangles. That’s the book I’m promoting whole-heartedly this week. You’ll find more information about this debut novel below.


Calling all authors—
I feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at Please consider this a good promotion opportunity. 


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for April’s 99-word story submissions is April 1 (no foolin’). The stories will appear on my blog post for April 9 and will remain on the blog during the following week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: “Spring can really hang you up the most.” In case you’re wondering, this prompt is taken from a torch song by the same name, written by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf. The song title is in turn inspired by T. S. Eliot’s line from The Wasteland, “April is the cruelest month.” What did Eliot mean by that? You tell me. NO, you show me in a 99-word story!


And now, as promised:
Recently published by Daniel & Daniel, Publishers, Inc.


a novel by

Susan Altstatt


240 pages, trade paperback, $15.95

Order from your local independent bookstore 
or direct from the publisher: 800-662-8351.
Also available from Amazon and other on-line booksellers.
 A starstruck teenager kidnaps a rock star and holds him captive for a week. Fear and hatred turn to respect and recovery.

The day after his concert tour closes in San Francisco, Tommi Rhymer, frontman of the English band Belshangles, comes to in a wilderness cabin. He has no clue where he is, or how he got there.
In the loft above him lies fifteen-year-old Miranda “Andy” Falconer. Her perfect day at the Belshangles concert went horribly wrong when her idol passed out in the alley behind his San Francisco hotel, in a state of undress with two under-age girls. But she knows rescuing him to her parents’ Sierra cabin was the right thing to do. What she doesn’t know are the physical and emotional effects of cold turkey withdrawal.
Now Andy’s on her own in the deep woods, faced with a sick, furious, potentially violent man. She’ll need physical and spiritual resources she never knew she had to care for, outwit, and eventually outrun Tommi, before sanity and sense of humor return, and he recognizes the chance she’s offered him to put his life in order.
Belshangles is a bittersweet love story, a tale of imprisonment and conflict, redemption and growth.

Susan Altstatt has degrees in theater from Stanford and UCLA, where she attended as a Wilson Fellow and won a Goldwyn award for playwriting. She has since been acclaimed as a painter of the California wild lands. Belshangles is her first novel, and the first book of a trilogy. It was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition. She lives in Los Altos Hills, California.


That’s it for this week and this month of March. Thank you for tuning in. Next month, April, is National Poetry Month. It also brings us rain and taxes. Let’s make a point of writing and telling stories inspired by weather and finance, and even in our prose, let’s inject a little poetry.

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