Storytelling

Pat Rice reporting in:

Woman_writing_a_letter I’m deep in revisions and spinning wheels backward faster than usual trying to escape one of the really tough parts about writing.  Which means, of course, that I’ve been thinking about everything except what I’m working on.

          As I sit here ripping out my hair and wearing out my thesaurus looking for just the right word, to fit in just the right phrase, to manipulate a sentence in just the right way, to get the reaction I want, I have come to the conclusion that there are many levels of writing, and I’m struggling for a level I may never achieve.  Which Pprincessfairygodmotherma137218680008isn’t bad, considering I’m already at a level most people can never come close to, but human nature requires motivation, and I’m only human. When I’m not just plain weird. <G>

         Many people are storytellers. The spoken word comes easily to their glib tongues and they can manipulate audience reaction with a wink or a grimace and just the right sound of their voice at the right time. The trouble begins when a storyteller attempts to put those stories to a blank page.  It’s impossible to see audience reaction, much less translate a wink and grimace into a computer. This is the point where we probably lose some of our very best storytellers. Their words will never reach the written page.

Img0007        Then there are people like me, who have wallowed in the written word all our lives, soaked in stories through our pores, observed the world around us, and who pulsate with vivid images screaming to be released.  Most of us aren’t aural storytellers. We’re very comfortable with the written word. But the stories in our heads are just like those of the aural storytellers—they need an audience. So we struggle to put the right words on paper to achieve the same reaction of laughter and tears and maybe an occasional ah hah! that a wink and grimace can create.

            Some writers are content to just relate the action of the story and hope for the best. Others of us work hard to get inside our characters and let the story develop through their actions. If an author is extremely good with expressing him/herself, this may flow naturally, but I think there are very few of us who can effortlessly relate story with conflict and emotion and well-developed characters with just the right chosen words to create a book that affects millions of people. Many don’t even know that they need to; others don’t care.  Some try, and think they’re successful, but in truth, they’re only reaching an audience with a mindset similar to theirs, so their audiences never grow. Other authors are successful at finding the right story that appeals to many, but grow lazy with experience and quit working to find all the right words to continue reaching more people. 

            There are so many factors involved in creating a successful story, that it’s almost impossible for any one person to have them all.  Some writers are wonderful wordsmiths who can make a reader weep with a few well chosen phrases, but they lack the ability to build a world large enough for a novel or the ability to build a world that large numbers of readers care about. 

            So, think of your favorite books and tell me why they work for you.  Is it the well chosen words and sentences? The characters? The world they live in? The action and pacing of the story that keep you glued to the page?  The laughter and tears? Geniuses who can do all these things, like Austen, are a rarity. So who among modern authors come close to that level of storytelling genius? And if these authors aren’t New York Times bestsellers, why do you think they aren’t?

12 thoughts on “Storytelling”

  1. What a wonderfully complex array of thoughts and questions!
    First, the written word can never hope to emulate the spoken word fully in all its complexity, with all the subtle nuances of vocal intonation and timbre, facial expression and body-language. Writing is never more than a visual diagram representing speech. But the spoken word is fleeting, severely limited in space and time, lost forever the moment after it has been uttered: the written word may survive for centuries, even millennia, and is able to link us with other humans who are long dead, and who lived in a world very different from our own. Most other animals can communicate very effectively with their own kind in the here and now, but humans are the only creatures that can touch the thoughts of others of their kind who lived far away and long ago.
    Perhaps because I read (and write) non-fiction more than fiction, my priority in reading is that astonishing, sometimes humbling, contact with the mind, both the intellect and the emotions, of the writer. Certainly I love a good story as much as the next reader, and revel in vivid characters and exciting plots, in evocative description and witty dialogue. But above all, I like to be able to see through the author’s eyes for a while, whether the author is relating a stirring fictional tale, or inviting me into his or her thought-processes in interpreting the function or significance of an ancient artefact. Even when reading fiction, my primary identification is never with any of the characters, but always with the storyteller; the characters appear on a stage in my mind, and the writer is always there, directing, observing, explaining.
    I should add that the non-fiction writer agonises every bit as much about finding exactly the right word or phrase as does the novelist. Making sure that the contact with the reader’s mind is as accurate, complete and unambiguous as possible is the same, and everyone writing for publication should edit and polish her prose to the best of her ability.

    Reply
  2. What a wonderfully complex array of thoughts and questions!
    First, the written word can never hope to emulate the spoken word fully in all its complexity, with all the subtle nuances of vocal intonation and timbre, facial expression and body-language. Writing is never more than a visual diagram representing speech. But the spoken word is fleeting, severely limited in space and time, lost forever the moment after it has been uttered: the written word may survive for centuries, even millennia, and is able to link us with other humans who are long dead, and who lived in a world very different from our own. Most other animals can communicate very effectively with their own kind in the here and now, but humans are the only creatures that can touch the thoughts of others of their kind who lived far away and long ago.
    Perhaps because I read (and write) non-fiction more than fiction, my priority in reading is that astonishing, sometimes humbling, contact with the mind, both the intellect and the emotions, of the writer. Certainly I love a good story as much as the next reader, and revel in vivid characters and exciting plots, in evocative description and witty dialogue. But above all, I like to be able to see through the author’s eyes for a while, whether the author is relating a stirring fictional tale, or inviting me into his or her thought-processes in interpreting the function or significance of an ancient artefact. Even when reading fiction, my primary identification is never with any of the characters, but always with the storyteller; the characters appear on a stage in my mind, and the writer is always there, directing, observing, explaining.
    I should add that the non-fiction writer agonises every bit as much about finding exactly the right word or phrase as does the novelist. Making sure that the contact with the reader’s mind is as accurate, complete and unambiguous as possible is the same, and everyone writing for publication should edit and polish her prose to the best of her ability.

    Reply
  3. What a wonderfully complex array of thoughts and questions!
    First, the written word can never hope to emulate the spoken word fully in all its complexity, with all the subtle nuances of vocal intonation and timbre, facial expression and body-language. Writing is never more than a visual diagram representing speech. But the spoken word is fleeting, severely limited in space and time, lost forever the moment after it has been uttered: the written word may survive for centuries, even millennia, and is able to link us with other humans who are long dead, and who lived in a world very different from our own. Most other animals can communicate very effectively with their own kind in the here and now, but humans are the only creatures that can touch the thoughts of others of their kind who lived far away and long ago.
    Perhaps because I read (and write) non-fiction more than fiction, my priority in reading is that astonishing, sometimes humbling, contact with the mind, both the intellect and the emotions, of the writer. Certainly I love a good story as much as the next reader, and revel in vivid characters and exciting plots, in evocative description and witty dialogue. But above all, I like to be able to see through the author’s eyes for a while, whether the author is relating a stirring fictional tale, or inviting me into his or her thought-processes in interpreting the function or significance of an ancient artefact. Even when reading fiction, my primary identification is never with any of the characters, but always with the storyteller; the characters appear on a stage in my mind, and the writer is always there, directing, observing, explaining.
    I should add that the non-fiction writer agonises every bit as much about finding exactly the right word or phrase as does the novelist. Making sure that the contact with the reader’s mind is as accurate, complete and unambiguous as possible is the same, and everyone writing for publication should edit and polish her prose to the best of her ability.

    Reply
  4. Pat asked.. “Is it the well chosen words and sentences? The characters? The world they live in? The action and pacing of the story that keep you glued to the page?”
    You could build the most wondrous world but if I can’t feel the cold rain, hear the crashing waves, see the lightening split the sky, why should I care? You could create the hero of my dreams but if he has nothing to care for or no one to care about, I can not know his heart. It’s the way you make me feel, Pat, that keeps me turning the pages of your books.
    I certainly can see the reason why an author would want to expand reader base, but please, be true to yourself.
    I can also understand the desire and need to outdo one’s self. But sometimes, great is great and perfect can be no more so.
    Recently I received the following advice from a wonder editor friend of mine. I’ll share it here. Let it flow naturally, and try not to agonize too much over it, and you may find it comes easier.
    Hugs to you, Wench Pat.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  5. Pat asked.. “Is it the well chosen words and sentences? The characters? The world they live in? The action and pacing of the story that keep you glued to the page?”
    You could build the most wondrous world but if I can’t feel the cold rain, hear the crashing waves, see the lightening split the sky, why should I care? You could create the hero of my dreams but if he has nothing to care for or no one to care about, I can not know his heart. It’s the way you make me feel, Pat, that keeps me turning the pages of your books.
    I certainly can see the reason why an author would want to expand reader base, but please, be true to yourself.
    I can also understand the desire and need to outdo one’s self. But sometimes, great is great and perfect can be no more so.
    Recently I received the following advice from a wonder editor friend of mine. I’ll share it here. Let it flow naturally, and try not to agonize too much over it, and you may find it comes easier.
    Hugs to you, Wench Pat.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  6. Pat asked.. “Is it the well chosen words and sentences? The characters? The world they live in? The action and pacing of the story that keep you glued to the page?”
    You could build the most wondrous world but if I can’t feel the cold rain, hear the crashing waves, see the lightening split the sky, why should I care? You could create the hero of my dreams but if he has nothing to care for or no one to care about, I can not know his heart. It’s the way you make me feel, Pat, that keeps me turning the pages of your books.
    I certainly can see the reason why an author would want to expand reader base, but please, be true to yourself.
    I can also understand the desire and need to outdo one’s self. But sometimes, great is great and perfect can be no more so.
    Recently I received the following advice from a wonder editor friend of mine. I’ll share it here. Let it flow naturally, and try not to agonize too much over it, and you may find it comes easier.
    Hugs to you, Wench Pat.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  7. I guess for me a well written book is one that I don’t have to think about the writing or the way it is written. Everything just seems to flow and i can picture the scenes almost as if it is a movie playing in my head. In fact, i have been known to get movies and books mixed up because I tend to “see” it all happening.
    If I find that I have to really concentrate on the language or the phrasing, it will throw off the flow of the book and in turn throw me off. I have never really analyzed what it is about the story or the way it is written, but I guess it comes down to it flowing from one scene or idea to the next.
    I can only imagine how difficult it is to make a book that is this easy to read, and I each and every author that sweats and swears through all of the writing, re-writing, and editing that goes into a book before I get it in my hot little hands. It is truly appreciated!

    Reply
  8. I guess for me a well written book is one that I don’t have to think about the writing or the way it is written. Everything just seems to flow and i can picture the scenes almost as if it is a movie playing in my head. In fact, i have been known to get movies and books mixed up because I tend to “see” it all happening.
    If I find that I have to really concentrate on the language or the phrasing, it will throw off the flow of the book and in turn throw me off. I have never really analyzed what it is about the story or the way it is written, but I guess it comes down to it flowing from one scene or idea to the next.
    I can only imagine how difficult it is to make a book that is this easy to read, and I each and every author that sweats and swears through all of the writing, re-writing, and editing that goes into a book before I get it in my hot little hands. It is truly appreciated!

    Reply
  9. I guess for me a well written book is one that I don’t have to think about the writing or the way it is written. Everything just seems to flow and i can picture the scenes almost as if it is a movie playing in my head. In fact, i have been known to get movies and books mixed up because I tend to “see” it all happening.
    If I find that I have to really concentrate on the language or the phrasing, it will throw off the flow of the book and in turn throw me off. I have never really analyzed what it is about the story or the way it is written, but I guess it comes down to it flowing from one scene or idea to the next.
    I can only imagine how difficult it is to make a book that is this easy to read, and I each and every author that sweats and swears through all of the writing, re-writing, and editing that goes into a book before I get it in my hot little hands. It is truly appreciated!

    Reply
  10. Ah you of kind thoughts! To prove I need serious editing at every level of a book, go back and re-read this blog. I really, really do know the difference between “aural” and “oral,” but when my fingers race across the keyboard, they don’t pay attention to find distinctions, and since the words sound alike, I don’t hear it if I read aloud.
    I’d like to time travel and ask our ancestors what they were THINKING to create words so similar in every aspect. Why not just go ahead and make them the same word while they’re at it?!
    Writing with the flow is all very well and good when one has water from a faucet, but my wild rivers need lots of taming. “G”

    Reply
  11. Ah you of kind thoughts! To prove I need serious editing at every level of a book, go back and re-read this blog. I really, really do know the difference between “aural” and “oral,” but when my fingers race across the keyboard, they don’t pay attention to find distinctions, and since the words sound alike, I don’t hear it if I read aloud.
    I’d like to time travel and ask our ancestors what they were THINKING to create words so similar in every aspect. Why not just go ahead and make them the same word while they’re at it?!
    Writing with the flow is all very well and good when one has water from a faucet, but my wild rivers need lots of taming. “G”

    Reply
  12. Ah you of kind thoughts! To prove I need serious editing at every level of a book, go back and re-read this blog. I really, really do know the difference between “aural” and “oral,” but when my fingers race across the keyboard, they don’t pay attention to find distinctions, and since the words sound alike, I don’t hear it if I read aloud.
    I’d like to time travel and ask our ancestors what they were THINKING to create words so similar in every aspect. Why not just go ahead and make them the same word while they’re at it?!
    Writing with the flow is all very well and good when one has water from a faucet, but my wild rivers need lots of taming. “G”

    Reply

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