Saturday, September 9, 2017

First Rule of Storytelling? No Rules

Now and again, I try to remind myself of a few of my favorite storytelling rules.

1. There are no rules.

2. If there were, rule 2 would be not to write about writers writing unless you can be spectacularly interesting about it. Which is hard. If you're going to break this rule, make sure writing is a very small part of a much larger and more interesting story.

3. Wait. Don't just start writing a story because you want to sell a book, play or idea and don't write because you're hoping for a best seller. Let the idea haunt you and needle you and obsess you until you absolutely NEED to write it out. Wait for the idea that won't let you go, because in my view, that's when you have a best seller.

4. Make up characters you know. You don't have to know them well; they can be people you talk to once in a while in your neighborhood, but they have to intrigue you sufficiently so you can do a good job of describing them and even more importantly, imagining them. Try to observe people and talk to them and learn their speech patterns. It will serve you well when you are writing characters. And when you start thinking about characters, write down little notes about them until you know everything there is to know--from physical traits to the sound of their voices to the shoes they wear and much more. Because you really do need to know everything.

5. Give yourself time to sit in the dark and stare into space. Empty your mind of everything except your story. Think about what would happen if you were the protagonist and navigating the particular life you want that protagonist to have. Then figure out what needs to happen in the story to move it forward.

6. Think about the worst day you've ever had. What happened? How did you navigate it and what did you learn from it? Is there a way to tell that story as a novel or a play?

7. Think about what you want most and how you tried to get it. Make that part of your story too. The more difficult it was to get it, the better your story will be. If you didn't get it, your story might be even better.

8. Don't think about the ending while you are writing. Let the ending find you, rather than trying to find it. You'll know when you're there, and in the meantime, your story needs to keep winding, like everyone's story.

9. Be patient and go slow. We all want to be done with stories and books and plays after we've been working on them a while. But rushing shows up in your work, and makes it sloppy. If you get half a page done a day, so be it. Make that half a page count and you'll have done a good day's work. I mean it.

10. Pick one or two people you trust and share. When you're ready, share your work with a trusted reader or two and get away from it for a bit. I have always found doing that makes my work stronger because I can get comments I never expected about stuff that's really important. So don't be afraid to share.

If you have rules for storytelling and want to share them, feel free! Maybe you have rules about what you read? THAT... would be even better.

Writer photo: Alan Weir