My 1991 edition of Stephen King’s story collection, Nightshift, begins with an introduction by John D MacDonald (most famous for his detective Trevor McGee and for his story, The Executioners, which provided the basis for the film Cape Fear (1962, 1991). MacDonald tells it straight. In order to write well you need:
1. Compulsive Diligence
3. Empathy (know yourself in order to see a little piece of you in everyone else)
4. Enough objectivity, but not too much.
5. “Story. Story. Dammit, story!”
Story, according to MacDonald, is “something happening to someone you have been led to care about … without author intrusion.”
Author intrusion is: “My God, Mama, look how nice I’m writing!”
MacDonald makes it sound easy, but most diligent, empathetic, objective story-tellers know that these three adjectives and one noun describe a frustrating, heartbreaking and at times rewarding journey with no definable destination. MacDonald himself had to write 800, 000 words, typing 14 hours a day for five months before he finally got a $40 sale to Dime Detective in 1946.