I’m trying to get better at storytelling, so I’m looking for little signs about the craft. Hurray for podcasts!
After listening to Mur Lafferty’s interview with Tracy Hickman on I should be writing, Hickman did an offhand remark about story and realism, that story is how the world should be, not how it is (or what I thought, could be).
Then, after listening to Comic Book Outsiders, with special co-host Stacey Whittle and host Steve Aryan, where they talked about the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, there was another offhand remark. If you go from one book to the other, some time has passed and while reading the book you get a hint of what has happened, off camera, so to speak.
It was a subtle hint to write another blog post, before all of this fades away in oblivion. I just can’t keep all of this in my brain. I need to dump it onto my blog for later reference. So here it is.
A story is an amped up anecdote
Compared to anecdotes told among friends, a written story should be amplified for dramatic effect. Personal anecdotes are only interesting for those who know the storyteller intimately and can related to him or her. If you are writing for a wider audience than your friends and family, you need to step outside the bubble of personal life experiences. You need to stylize what you tell, so it will be more accessible for people who don’t know you. They can use their own life experiences to fill in the blanks you left in your story on purpose.
This means you can’t simply let the words flow from your mind to your keyboard, but you have to craft your story. What you can assume known amongst your friends (and if not, they can ask while you are doing the telling) has to be conveyed to a reader somehow. However, if you merely state the facts, most readers will get bored, because facts have little emotional impact, do little to engage. It’s all about packaging the facts that are required to understand the story. Therein lies the craft of fictional storytelling.
So you don’t want to bullet point facts. You may assume anyone above the age of six has some level of storytelling ability and you can and should make use of that ability. Hence you can assume some level of sophistication when it comes to relaying story facts in imaginative and novel ways.
That’s as far as I dare to go. Nuggets of knowledge about the craft come in little chunks. I suppose this is because most authors have little to no insight in their creative process, at least at a level that is useful for novice writers. They can tell you how they write, which could be totally different from how you best write.
One thing is certain, though. You learn how to write by actually writing, not by merely thinking about writing. Even so, you should do so with the intent to entertain your reader, to grab his or her attention, while (and hopefully beyond) reading your story.
Tell it in your own words
What does that actually mean, “in your own words?” To me it means that you interpret the story, give a spin of your own. If it’s a factual story (an anecdote), the amount of imagination you will put into it will be low. However, if it’s a fictional story, you can put as much imagination into a story as you want.
Now I have ventured out into unknown territory, where I have no authority (at least not yet). I feel lost and unsure of myself. I know I’m not yet ready to write stories that are worth publishing.
This is actually a good thing. How many novice writers are sure they are about to write the next bestseller, while they’re clearly not ready? They couldn’t write themselves out of a paper bag.
So there seems to be more to storytelling than merely retelling in your own words. I’m puzzled, at a loss. What am I to do next?
Yes, I’m here, but I’m still not sure what’s next.
I promise I will tell you once I know more.
*Sign of presence, answered with the same word by anyone present.