The Write Way


The unexpected question came from our granddaughters last week during our early morning ride to school.

“Papa, how do you write a story?” After years of hearing me tell stories about growing up back on Flamingo Street, they’ve decided to write their own. So how do you write a story?

It’s a short question with a long answer, but I’ll do the best that I can. After all, how hard could it be for a writer to write about writing, right?

For any story there must be a title; otherwise, it’s just a bunch of words on paper. I’ve found the best titles are usually three or four words in length. Using a five-word title is rare for me because it takes up too much space — plus my editor always wants to know why I can’t get my point across using three or four words.

A two-word title is good, but it has to be the right two words to describe the entire story. And that brings us to the rarest title of them all, one that I’ve only used a few times over my twenty-three years of writing stories.

The one-word title.

A title must catch the eye of the reader, give them pause and grab their interest so much so that they will stop what they are doing and spend time out of their busy day to read what you have written. That’s a lot riding on a few words, much less just one, which brings us to the next part of the story.

The first sentence.

The reader’s time is extremely valuable, and if they give it to you, they should be rewarded. It may seem to be an impossible task, but once you get someone to start reading your story, you have to keep them interested. Why write a story if folks are going to stop reading halfway through? Or worse — stop reading after just the title. So, what’s the best way to keep readers interested? Using hooks, of course.


I know it’s not a title, but a one-word sentence strategically placed somewhere within your story can peak your reader’s interest. I use hooks either in the first or last sentence of most any paragraph. Just like fishing, hooks help to pull the reader along from one paragraph to the next. Don’t want to lose the reader and let them get away halfway through the story, now do we?

But even the best-hooked reader will eventually get away if your story is too long. And that brings us to possibly the most important aspect of writing.

Story length.

Just how long should a short story be? Seems like a ridiculous question because the answer is so obvious.

When I first started to write, I sought out help from a friend with a degree in English. Since she had also been a high school English teacher, I thought she wouldn’t mind helping one more student. When I told her I thought a short story should, by its namesake, be short, I quickly learned a short story can be anything but.

She said, “A short story should be just as long as it takes to tell the story. Not one word more and certainly not one word less.” Then to clarify things she added, “The story should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessary in that order.” It has taken me years to understand what she’d said.

Find a good editor…or two.

As confusing as her advice was, she was right. Her insight into the English language is second to none, but how she helps most is with her editing. The harsh comments and red marks on my papers I received back from Ms. Newsome, my 11th grade English teacher, still make me feel unworthy as a writer even to this very day.

By contrast, my editor today not only corrects the English stuff, but also gives constructive criticism offering up suggestions on what might make the story better. Most often, she’s right. After all, she is a reader.

More importantly, she has been a cherished family friend for the last 25 years and cares about me as a person, so she wants to help bring out the best in my writing. Such a person is a rare find indeed. And that’s why she has been editing my stories since the very beginning.

The last sentence.

If you have written well enough, then your reader has made it to the last sentence of your story. But now what? If the title has drawn them in, the last sentence should leave them wanting to read more. The last sentence doesn’t necessarily end your story, or always provide a neat conclusion.

The ending might have to wait until other installments or another story entirely. And sometimes the ending isn’t at the end of a story at all, it’s at the beginning. That brings us to the most important part of a story.

You have to have a reason to write.

I was a firefighter working at the fire station on the morning of 9/11. Finally making it home the next day, I sat down and wrote my story — then gave it to the editor of this then-weekly newspaper.

A week later, he printed it on the front page and offered me my own column. That was 1,200 stories ago, and this starts my 23rd year writing for the same paper.

Why did the editor take a chance on an unknown writer so long ago? I still don’t really know, but it’s made a positive impact on my life, sending me down paths I thought were impossible to travel. The doors it has opened in this world are countless, and I will forever be thankful for his act of kindness so many years ago. It has changed this writer’s life forever.

And finally, write your own story.

Only you can write your own story; no one else can. Write about whatever is happening in your life: the happy stuff, the sad stuff, and the silly everyday stuff. Chances are the same things are happening in your readers’ lives so they will be able to relate.

The stories here every week are what I like to call “Hallmark” type stories — stories about when we were kids growing up on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo. My three brothers, The Sister, and I had adventures (and misadventures!) that some of you have experienced too.

And if I’ve done my job as a short story writer, sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you’ll cry, and sometimes you’ll do both. But hopefully, the stories will keep you coming back to see what happens next week.

And if you do, then I’ve definitely done my job as a writer. And that’s how you write the right way.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]