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The Five Basic Essentials For A Great Story

Updated on October 4, 2013

Baking the Pie

Imagine you are baking a pie. You organize all the ingredients you will need and you start mixing those ingredients together in a specific order. When the mixing and matching is done you pop that sucker in the oven and a little while later out comes a pie.

So it is with writing a story. There are certain ingredients that must be used. How you mix and match them is your job as a writer, but without those ingredients you will not have a pie. You might end up with something edible if you skip one of the ingredients, but it won’t be delicious, and delicious is what we are after as writers.

Let me tell you about my day last Friday. I got up, ate breakfast and wrote articles.

Did I just tell you a story? Of course not! I just gave you a brief synopsis of what was actually a very rewarding day, but I left out some ingredients. What you got was the crust and nothing more and my friends, a pie is so much more than just the crust.

So, what ingredients do you need to write a great story?

Getting ready to bake that pie
Getting ready to bake that pie

An interesting video

ORIENTATION

Right out of the chute we find the first main ingredient, found at the beginning of any good story. Here we must grab the readers by the throat and capture their attention. Here was must establish the setting for the story and here we must set the mood and tone.

Here we must also introduce the main protagonist of our story, the person we want our readers to associate with and give a damn about. If we do not introduce an interesting character early on then chances are excellent we will lose our readers early on. Readers want to care about the protagonist, and it is our job as writers to give them a reason to care.

It is usually best at this stage to introduce your protagonist in their natural setting, or their normal life. That way we have a basis from which transformation will occur as the story develops.

CRISIS

It is now time to turn your main character’s life inside out and upside down. Their normal life is now shattered and they must solve the crisis as the story continues.

The crisis, of course, depends on the genre of the story. It could be an emotional crisis, a physical crisis, a psychological crisis or a combination of those. It could lead to a quest or it could lead to solving a mystery.

The two most common ways of introducing a crisis is to either snatch away something that is valuable to your main character, or entice that character with something they badly desire. Either way is effective and leads to great adventure for the reader.

A change occurs as the clouds in your character's life either dissipate or gather into a storm.
A change occurs as the clouds in your character's life either dissipate or gather into a storm.

ESCALATION

The crisis deepens and the transformation of your character continues to take place.

Listen, one of the reasons a good book or story is a good book or story is because the main character undergoes change. We, the readers, have invested ourselves in the main characters, and we almost feel the change that they are undergoing. Your protagonist must change during the story; that is the whole point of conflict and it is the definition of transformation. For a main character to blithely go through 300 pages of a novel and not change is unimaginable and unforgiveable.

During the escalation part of the story, the protagonist is taking steps to solve the crisis and return to a life before the crisis occurred.

DISCOVERY

Call it the climax if you will, but the discovery portion of your story is the overcoming of crisis that will change forever the life of the protagonist.

The crisis has been faced and the protagonist has made conscious decisions in dealing with the crisis, and he/she will be forever changed by the outcome….and….if you are a really good writer, the outcome will be inevitable and unexpected. Readers want to guess the outcome and readers want a surprise. If you have done your job, the reader will be left gasping.

CHANGE

How has your protagonist changed because of the conflict? In other words, what internal and/or external transformation happened to your main character? Remember, he cannot return to life as the way it was before the crisis; he must be changed forever because of it.

In my novel “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday To Today,” the main character begins as a womanizing drunkard heading on a one-way path to nowhere, but by the book’s end he has undergone a complete psychic change for the better. So it must be with your protagonist.

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Time to Gather Your Ingredients

If you are ready then get started with your baking exercise. There are a great many pie-lovers out there cleverly disguised as the reading public, and they are starving for some quality story-telling.

If you use these five basic essentials you are sure to please the most discerning of literary gourmets.

Bon appetite!

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • AMAZING THINKER profile image

      AMAZING THINKER 3 years ago from Home

      Great article!

      One can fill a 500 pages book on this topic, still you managed to fit everything into a brief guide, and mentioned the most important and essential parts.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Loved how you started this one with baking. Seriously, another one of my favorite past-times and to relate it to writing a book just perfect. I have pinned to refer to if I ever get time to go back to my novel editing. thank you so much Bill and wishing you a wonderful Friday now.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Amazing, thank you so much and you are right, this topic could fill a book. I appreciate your kind words. Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, no surprise that you are one of the first here again. Thank you my very good friend and have a great weekend.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      A rush of ideas flowed into my head like a gangbustin' tsunami as I read your article. What great timing on your part to reserve this motivational and instructional piece for the last day of the week. Like a good farmer, you've planted your crop(s), and now we wait to watch the splendid show of orientation, crisis, escalation, discovery, and change.

      Mahalo, Bill, for effectively capsulizing the making of a good book pie. I'm joining the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Betty Crocker--just as you've done with them, you make me proud, my friend!

      Aloha!

      ~Joe

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Joe,...great timing? I hope so and I hope that means you have a great book inside of you straining to get out. If so, now is the time my friend. Unleash that Hemingway and let it flow.

      Thank you as always. I hope things are better for you and the doctor gave good news.

      Aloha

      bill

    • profile image

      mjkearn 3 years ago

      Hi Sir Bill & Bye Sir Bill

      I've succumb to my own advice and decided that I'm definitely a scribbler and not by any stretch a writer.

      I'm much better at fixing things and I've lots to fix so that's where I'll be, in the shed. Besides since writing and cooking seem to have lots in common then that just confirms my choice since ingredients are not parts then I've got no chance.

      Since there is already one great talent in the household I'll simply support Suzie as she seems to be going in the right direction.

      I may pop in from time to time just to give you some Bad Manners and Keep You Real.

      Great job here and more excellent advice from the great guru for those aspiring writers.

      It's been a blast.

      MJ.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ahhh, MJ, you just crushed me today. Nobody writes a comment like you do. I have had hours of laughter because of you and now you tell me you are retiring to the shed??? Say it's not so!

      Stay in touch my friend. I want to be updated on the Great Italian Move and how it is all progressing. Take care buddy and thanks for everything.

      bill

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      This is good advice. The problem with too many stories now is the writer does not make the reader care about the protagonist. In some books and movies, eventually I even start to hope for the protagonist's demise. That probably does not say much for the story. I like how you mention we need to make people give a damn about the protagonist. More writers should keep that in mind.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      This recipe looks tasty and delicious.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL...Lizzy, your dry humor is absolutely desert-like.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great point Jeannie, and I think I've seen the same movies, where I'm cheering on hoping the protagonist suffer horribly. LOL Just kidding but you are very right. Thanks and now I'm off to see what you have written today.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Billy, this is most definitely a 'keeper', which I am adding to my Billybuc writer's guide bookmark! This is something I can really sink my teeth into. Thank you for sharing so generously this essential information, my friend ;)

      Voted Up++++

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 3 years ago from Arizona

      Love this and I applied the rules to my favorite mysteries..and you are so right. Good ingredients, blend well and bake just long enough.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Another one to add to my "Bill's Writing Tips" file. Great advice! Now, I'm a pretty good baker - what's your favorite pie?

      Enjoy your day and have a peaceful, sunny weekend my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pearl, I'm just a teacher who never stops teaching. I swear it is in my DNA and I can't shut it off. LOL Thank you for patiently reading these tips and being so generous with your praise.

      Have a great weekend with your birds.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Exactly, Carol, and don't overbake whatever you do. :) Thank you! Is it any cooler in Arizona these days?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, apple pie right out of the oven with a slice of cheddar on top....a treat to die for. :)

      Thanks hon!

      love,

      bill

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 3 years ago from Arizona

      We live in the mountain area..and it is a lot cooler and cools off every night. Phoenix is very hot...Set the timer for the cake, and don't open the oven until done.

    • profile image

      anndango 3 years ago

      Yum, I gobbled this hub up! Great stuff as usual.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, thank goodness you live in the mountains...I could not live in the Phoenix area...no way no how.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I hope you found it delicious. :) Thank you!

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 3 years ago

      Again, a hub chock full of great information.

      So many things to keep in mind while we write.

      In time, hopefully, it will come naturally.

      Until then, I shall keep reading your great suggestions and practice applying them.

      For now, I'd loved of piece of that pie with vanilla ice cream.

      No cheese on pie for this Southern Belle!

      Thanks, Bill.

      DJ.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DJ, I had you pegged for an ice cream girl. One slice of pie and ice cream coming up my friend. :) Thanks and have a great weekend.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 3 years ago from Minnesota

      My mom doesn't let me touch the oven....Do you have a microwave version?

      Just kidding, your ideas are excellent. And now I'm really hungry for pie!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL...Melissa, that was a great line. I'll work on that microwave version. In the meantime. go grab a snack. :) Have a great weekend Melissa!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Great advice for fiction writers, Bill, and the pie-baking analogy is very apt. The problems that besiege a story's protagonist are critical to the plot's success. It's that crisis and how it's overcome (or not) that keeps the reader interested until the end. As writers, we ignore this rule to the peril of our stories.

      M-m-mmm....Reading this hub made me hungry. I wonder why?

      Voted Up+++

      Jaye

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Great advice for writers, as always, Bill. Thanks for sharing your useful suggestions.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, this one is very tasty!...So much so, I'll be sharing and saving some for later :). Another masterpiece.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      ...and the plot thickens! Sensei you continue to enlighten us with your wisdom. Would this be a simile or metaphor - pie and writing that is? Either way along with protagonist development there's going to be a lot of pie eating going on this weekend, not to mention bookmarks flying about as we all keep track of your pearls of wisdom.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and as always shared.

      Enjoy the weekend.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I love the comparison to baking a pie! I will bookmark this, because it is very useful!

      Have a great weekend, and thanks for sharing this with us.

      ~ Kathryn

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jaye, it is such a basic principle of story writing and yet many writers forget it.....if the reader cannot become invested in the struggle of the main character then the story will not be read....and then the writer has failed.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great weekend in Jackson.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alicia....it's always a pleasure helping writers if I can.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, you can even freeze it and unthaw it when you get hungry later on. :)

      Thank you my friend. Enjoy your weekend and blessings to you always.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, don't even get me started on the difference between a simile and metaphor. I could do another article just on that. :) In fact, maybe I will.

      Have a great weekend Mary and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure Kathryn. As always, thank you for caring enough to always be here.

      Enjoy your weekend and start building that new life....one that is centered around your needs and wants and hopes.

      bill

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Bill- I always save your writing tips for the end of the day so I could fully absorb them. (I try to read your motivational ones in the beginning of the day)! It's a good feeling when I can use your advice as it pertains to my own new book and say Check! for most of the tips. Thanks for sharing this!

      Liz

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      I would really like to be a good story teller/writer. Thank you for this clear outline. Always helpful!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Liz, that is a high form of flattery and I thank you! I hope you have a wonderful weekend and thank you for the work you do for dogs. It speaks highly of your character.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, if you want it then it can be so. Keep writing my friend and keep working the craft. You have the talent to succeed.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very interesting. The most difficult task for me is the ending of a story, but i am learning. You are a great teacher. Thank you.

    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 3 years ago

      Great hub. You presented valuable information for those who write stories. I voted up, useful, awesomeand interesting along with liking pinning and tweeting.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Ruby! The hardest part of any article for me is the ending as well.

      I hope you have a wonderful weekend my friend.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dennis, I appreciate all the sharing. Thank you so much and have a great weekend.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for the tips.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great lesson, Professor. I know if the protagonist doesn't have any qualities that will make him/her a real person, I quickly lost interest in the story. I once tried to watch 'The Wrestler' but gave up when I realised 30 minutes into it I didn't actually cared if the title character lived or died. I know it's supposed to be a really good film, but I just couldn't relate to the character.

    • one2get2no profile image

      Philip Cooper 3 years ago from Olney

      Really appreciate this advice Billy...motivates me to continue with my novel. Thanks for sharing.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Bill,

      Well, I thought I just left a comment, but it went away, so here it goes again : )

      I love the analogy of baking a pie here! How clever and it really does provide a lot of insight. What is really great is knowing that you have expressed before how much you do not care for recipes hubs, which makes this even much more interesting.

      Great points to ponder for sure!

      Hugs, Faith Reaper

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Yes! All these are the essentials.....without build up, everything goes flat. Sharing!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Martin!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Phoenix, that's a real bad sign when you don't care what happens to the character. LOL You know the book or movie is doomed at that point.

      Thanks for the laugh and the truth my friend. Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      one2get2no, carry on with that novel and best of luck to you with it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ah, Faith, it's not that I dislike recipe hubs; it's that I dislike the same old thing in recipe hubs. If one is going to do something that is done by hundreds daily, then take the time to make it interesting. Sorry if you misunderstood my feelings about them. I don't care what the topic is; I just believe writers should be trying to do the best that they can do.

      blessings always and thank you

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes MIchelle...flat is not what a writer should want. :) No doubt about it! Thank you for sharing.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 3 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      This hub is very informative. I like the clever way you make us think of a recipe. Voted up.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great advice Bill. I've said it before, you continue to show us the way and lay the path at our feet. It is up to us to follow. Great tips as always. Have a great weekend.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 3 years ago from United States

      Excellent advice and I have a book I am working on that needs to incorporate your suggestions a little more effectively. I am doing a re-write now. Awesome hub.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Diana! I hope you find this useful in the future.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I'm trying to pave that path so it won't have so many potholes. :)

      Have a great weekend buddy and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great news Pamela. Good luck with the book and thanks for taking the time to visit.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Amazing how you always come up with such great ideas for a hub and you are such a talented writer. Voted up and useful

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Kids must have flourished in the classroom they shared with you, Bill.

      Knowing how to get the job done is a huge part in the success of a writer. Thanks for keeping the focus on the important STUFF that comes together to produce fiction or nonfiction that holds the reader's attention.

      Angels are on the way to you along with hugs too this evening. :) ps

      shared

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      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 3 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Thanks Billy for such an entertaining class. I wish you have been my teacher in my school days. But, you know what? I am still a student, and I will always be.

      I have learned so much with the pie as the concrete object to teach the abstract term, which writers need to deal with. Thanks brother.

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      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I read this with fascination as I just made a pie yesterday and find it all connected. A very useful article. Thanks for the tips.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DDE, I am honored by that compliment. Thank you so much!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, I think I had some pretty special kids. For the most part they wanted to learn, and as you know that is a huge part of the battle in a classroom. Thank you as always, PS, and blessings and a hug winging their way to you.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, it is always a pleasure my dear lady. I wish you had been my student as well....we would have had much fun.

      blessings always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, sometimes the simplest metaphor is the most useful....it seems to be the case with this pie. :) Your compliment means a great deal, teacher to teacher. Thank you!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for the awesome tips, bill.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 3 years ago from south Florida

      Your 'baking a pie' writing analogy is delicious, Bill, and so easy to digest. Hope your Sunday is ful-filling.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome vkwok...thank you very much.

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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      drbj, I love puns! :)

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Bill, great tips on the essentials of writing. Love all your references to "baking a pie," brilliant! I've never tried to write a book or novel, but if I would, I would reference to this information. Your a great teacher Bill, the way you explain everything makes your readers connect on an entire new level or perhaps you just have that ability. None the less, very useful and wise information my friend. Voted up, useful, interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lyric, we all have gifts. I knew early on in the classroom that I had found mine....and I guess now that my classroom days are over, I'm still, perpetually, in teacher mode. :) Thank you so much my friend and have a great Sunday!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This was done wonderfully. I was impressed how you used making a pie to illustrate how to write a story.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Deb. I'm working on my similes and metaphors....not to mention my analogies. :)

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Great use of analogy.

      You must have been marking down my short stories in your head when you have been reading them as I like using Media Res :)

      A great article and useful as always.

      They are always fresh and engaging and I never tire of reading your work. You deliver everytime on quality and on engagement.

      Thank you Mr Holland :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Anna, I haven't been called Mr. Holland for three years now....it sounded nice for a change. :) Thank you young lady and I hope you have a great week in ever-sunny Scotland. :)

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      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Bill,

      What a great article with all the necessary ingredients for a great story to be told. I see MJ popped in and I am glad he let you know his decision to put his writing "on hold". I am sorry to see him depart for now as I have always had more belief in him than I think he has had. He has so much talent but not the same passion as I do. Thanks for another excellent account and I would love to write a story one of these days, truly. i think my imagination would take off and it would be so intriguing to see where it landed!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suzie, the sad thing about MJ is that he has a great niche that I think would pay off over time, and he had greatly improved as a writer....I just hate to see people give up before the miracle happens.

      Anyway, you and I are still going strong and for that I am thankful. Thank you!

    • Scott P Williams profile image

      Scott P Williams 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Thanks

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Scott, it's my pleasure, and thanks for the follow.

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi Billy.... I will be keeping this one in the bookmark bin... excellent write and motivator... thank you my friend... say hello to your girl and thank her for loving you... then go out and cuddle the chickens...

      Love you Bro

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rolly old buddy, thank you! I love it...thank Bev for loving me...I just did that yesterday my friend, and thank you for your friendship.

      love from Oly

      bill

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