Did you do this? When I first decided to become a writer, I’d finish reading a book that had totally engrossed me, and I’d look at the individual sentences and wonder how the author had created such magical constructs of words to transport me to another time and place. My confusion grew as I realized that each sentence was simply a combination of ordinary words put together in an ordinary manner.
As an adult and someone who has studied writing for quite some time now, I know a couple of truths:
Truth 1 – There are no magic sentences.
Words are simply there to convey the story. There’s nothing special about them or the way they’re combined. Bully for you if you happen to come up with the “perfect” sentence or a nice turn of a phrase, but, really, it’s not necessary.
Truth 2 – If your story is compelling enough, your readers are going to love it regardless of breaking “rules” or your skill with craft or anything else.
I can use the best craft imaginable to convey my story, but, if the story isn’t compelling, it won’t matter. At the same time, if the story is good enough, the reader doesn’t care about my craft.
Some of the people reading the above sentences are thinking, “Exactly. There’s no reason for me to follow the ‘rules;’ I can write however I want.” Some long-time readers of this blog are thinking, “Then why in the crap do you spend so much time on this blog emphasizing writing tips if they’re basically worthless?”
Both those sets of readers missed the biggest two-letter word in the English language — if.
Over the last year, I’ve read a lot of self published novels. During the years before that, I read a lot of traditionally published novels. Through my experience, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion:
You are not as good at crafting a compelling story as you think you are.
There are few novels that are truly compelling, especially in comparison to the number of novels produced. Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely that your novel is compelling, and, if it’s not, you need every advantage you can get in order to produce a quality product. That’s where the “rules” come in.
A lot of people have spent a lot of time examining ways to put words together. They’ve discovered what tends to engage the reader and what tends to draw the reader out of the story. They understand that writing isn’t math — there are no absolutes — but they assembled guidelines that, in general, help an author to convey their story better.
I can hear your question, “Even given that skill at technique is needed, if story is more important, why so much focus on technique?” I’m glad you asked. There are several factors at play:
1. Writers learn basic storytelling from a lifetime of experience reading. If you’ve read and watched television and movies for a long time, you probably have a decent understanding of the fundamentals.
2. True skill and discernment at storytelling is difficult to master and doesn’t easily break down into a set of guidelines. It’s going to take you a lot of time and effort reading analytically and trying to reproduce results to master the craft. Even after you spend a lot of time at this pursuit, you’re not going to see much in the way of measureable improvement until you reach breakthroughs.
3. Technique is easy to learn. There are millions of books and posts telling you how to improve.
4. Getting better at technique leads to immediate improvement that’s easy to see.
Let me be completely honest with you. I think Power of the Mages will be a decent book. Most people who read it should come away with a positive experience. My storytelling doesn’t completely suck, and I’ve worked hard to bring my technique up to a level where it doesn’t detract from the story.
The novel, however good it will be now, is but a shadow of how good it would be if I waited another five years to publish it due to the anticipated development of my storytelling ability. Maybe I should wait. When it comes right down to it, though, I think it’s good enough to be published and good enough to start building me an audience.
If you believe the alternative is better, to build your storytelling skills first, here’s how you do it…
TO BE CONTINUED
Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of this post. Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel.