When we speak of story telling, most of us think of sitting around a campfire listening to someone relate a tale so rich in detail that we shiver with fear, cry out with delight, laugh and cry. In this instance, the word tell is a misnomer, because a good storyteller shows the story to listeners.
Fiction writers are good liars. The best, actually, because to succeed in our craft
we have to cajole our readers into the world we have created and convince them
that it exists.
When a reader opens your book, she does not want to be told a story, she wants to
live that story. And to do that you make it possible for her to become a part of the
life of your characters. When she does, all her senses and emotions should come
into play. I consider emotions a sort of sixth sense, and a successful writer must
utilize every one of those senses.
I’m going to tell you something you won’t hear much at conferences. We are all
told that if we hone our craft and become an excellent writer, we will be published.
That is only part of it. Ultimately, it’s the story that counts. It’s stories editors buy.
You can be a wonderful writer, your words can sing, but if you don’t tell an
intriguing, spell binding story about characters readers can care about, those words are worth little. Of course, a good story without exceptional writing won’t sell either. Please don’t remind me of that horrible book you tried to read last week and threw across the room. That I can’t
explain, except to say that editors don’t always know what they’re doing.
Let’s concentrate on creating such vivid word pictures neither editors nor readers
can resist. In other words, show don’t tell.
As with all rules, there are times when we must break this one as well. Occasionally, it is necessary to get past something that has happened which we don’t wish to use as a scene. Sometimes dialogue will serve us better in this situation than narration or exposition, because we can show off our characters as they discuss what happened. Either way, there are times when you have to tell it and get on with thestory. Only you, as a writer, can decide which occurrences need to be scenes that show, and which ones must be told.
We call those scenes and sequels, or peaks and valleys. And each scene belongs in one or the other. Scenes have a beginning, middle and an end, they move the story forward, they enrich the characters, they place the reader firmly in the locale, they reveal another secret and best of all, they make it impossible for the reader to put down the book. The sequel is a resting place where any number of things can and do happen, but they are more filling to the moment than a scene is. Perhaps several characters sit around a dinner table and discuss things that, while important to the story, are occurrences that happened off stage. Or a character might read a letter of some importance to him. If you absolutely must use a short flashback, the sequel is the only place that should be done. And very sparsely, like just enough salt to make the tomato good.
Most every author knows about the book, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. It teaches about scenes and sequels as well as all facets of creating wonderful fiction. It should be on every shelf, even for those who don’t believe in improving their craft by reading someone else’s book, this one is a must. You don’t read it, you study it as you learn your craft. Check it out if you don’t have it.
Hope everyone has a great day and the coming year brings you writing success.