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  • John M. Campbell

How to Write a Howling Good Story

I have just finished reading Wulf Moon’s recently published book on the craft of writing called How to Write a Howling Good Story. Its cover shows the profile of a howling wolf silhouetted against a full moon. That’s got to be the best visual pun of the author’s name ever produced. In addition, his book makes several references to his writing students and followers as the Wulf Pack.


I started to fantasize how I could employ the same techniques for a future book of mine using my name. Having spent a significant amount of my reading time in the bathroom, I came up with this as the title of my future book on writing: How to Write a Story Good for the John. I envisioned my cover illustration to be an outhouse with a crescent moon carved on the door. (Maybe with a camp bell hanging on it?) Students and followers of my writing would be: Writers Who Give a Crap!


(Okay, it’s not perfected yet.)


Wulf’s chapters on constructing a story build on the teachings of Algis Budrys, a science fiction author and founding judge of the Writers of the Future contest. Budrys espoused the seven parts to a perfect story, which are taught in the Writers of the Future online workshop (available for free as a self-paced video course at writersofthefuture.com).


However, Wulf injects two more essential parts of a perfect story. The first writing secret he calls the Heart’s Desire, which is what the protagonist desires most to attain or to recover if it is taken from them. The second writing secret Wulf calls the Magic Sword, which is a special power the protagonist must attain to win their Heart’s Desire by the end of the story. The Magic Sword encompasses many forms depending on the story. It may be attained by learning what is needed to overcome the villain, which may include recruiting allies, or forging the ultimate weapon, or overcoming a personal flaw.


I found both of Wulf’s additions to Budrys’s seven parts to be very inciteful and useful to an author writing a story. Indeed, I had also incorporated Budrys’s seven parts into an essay I wrote previously for Inner Workings: A Calendar of Fools Anthology. This anthology contains short stories by winners of the Writers of the Future contest, along with their essays that discuss the writing techniques illustrated by the stories. Click here for more details.


In my essay, I added my own essential element to Budrys’s seven parts. It incorporated the idea of the Killer Ending, which I first heard expressed by writing instructor James Scott Bell. The Killer Ending is the one that proves the protagonist did the right thing and deserves to achieve their Heart’s Desire. It requires the author to put the protagonist in a bind where they must make a moral choice. Do they take the easy way out of this bind, or do they risk everything by making the correct moral decision? If they make the right choice, then they deserve to win their Heart’s Desire.


Just as Wulf has his writing secrets, I have mine. My first writing secret is: Add Fiber. To make your story compelling, you need characters with depth and moral fiber. My second writing secret is: Flush Away Fear. Just as the protagonist of your story must overcome fear and self-doubt to succeed, so must the author.


Include these elements from Algis, Wulf, and me in your stories, and you will be set to submit your work to the world.


How to Write a Howling Good Story by Wulf Moon

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