January 06, 2009

Just tell the story

We talk about historical details, getting the facts right, formatting and pacing, making sure there are compelling openings and closings to the book and to the chapters, following the classic three act story outline; there is no shortage of things that are involved in crafting a good book. It isn’t as easy as most people think.

But maybe we don’t spend enough time talking about the most important part of the process, telling the story. I believe that a really good story written with a crayon on a Big Chief tablet can be fixed, but a perfectly formatted, grammatically correct story that has no heart or no compelling storyline may not can be fixed at all.

We tend to lose that. We forget the story is the most important thing. I was making that point at a Christian Writing conference and had several pastors in the group. They vehemently defended the fact that the point they were trying to make, the faith content, was more important. I told them that was not true, if the story did not pull the reader in and keep them in, then the faith content they wished to convey would never even be read.

Excellent writers are first and foremost excellent storytellers. They instinctively know how to pull a person in from the first word and how to keep them in the story. They know when the tale might be bogging down and the person must be immersed in it anew. The pacing and the flow is built into the storytelling process, but sometimes we get so caught up in the mechanics of writing that we lose that process.

A successful writer must be a good storyteller, but a good storyteller is not necessarily a good writer. I say that because once we have a good storyline then we must know how to do all of the things I alluded to in the first paragraph and much more to make it into a professional manuscript. As an agent I get a lot of things that are beautifully written from a technical standpoint but the story just isn’t compelling. Conversely, I get things that are a good story but are so badly written that they just aren’t ready to submit.

As for myself, I don’t worry about the editing chores until I’ve written a storyline I’m happy with. Only then do I turn to making it a good manuscript. I know not every one works that way, but for me, the story always comes first.
Post your comments to be in a drawing to win a copy of my new title "Beyond the Smoke" and if you are a student, teacher or librarian, take a look at http://www.terryburns.net/contest.htm for the details to my writing contest.


Joanne Walpole said...

I think you're absolutely right. It is too easy to get bogged down in the technicalities and forget why we started writing in the first place - to tell a story. Nice piece. Jo

Carol Burge said...

I totally agree. The story is most important.

I enjoyed your post, and I love this blog!

rebornbutterfly said...

I'd love to read this book!
rebonrbutterfly (AT) sbcglobal (dot) net

rebornbutterfly said...

i spelling my email wrong!
in case you don't catch my typo its really:
rebornbutterfly (AT) sbcglobal (dot) net

Vickie McDonough said...

Well said, Terry. You're totally right about the story being foremost important. You can have a good faith message, but if you don't have a compelling story, the reader may set the book aside and never get to the faith message.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the comments. I have added this book to my TBR list.

Patti Shene said...

Hope I'm not too late for the drawing. Enjoyed your comments, Terry, and find this blog fascinating.