So I’ve been thinking about story and writing, and how one of those is being taught these days, but maybe not the other. Which got me thinking about ‘story telling’, that most ancient of arts if you go by the cave drawings of Lascaux, which has to be the first picture book around.
This led me to Story Arts a most useful site. Now they break it down to the telling bits, but the info seems just as good for the writing of a story if you look at the parts that apply to the concept of conveying a story:
They start with Voice Mechanics — and that’s a great place for a writer to start. It’s the mechanics of actually putting the story on the page.
…clear…non-monotonous…expression to clarify the meaning of the text.
All good stuff for a writer to do–clear, not boring, and making sure its very clear to the reader. Without meaning there is no story.
And then Face/Body/Gesture which a teller of story needs, but a writer needs to remember to use this for the characters: …uses non-verbal communication…
Ah, yes, the sub-text, SHOWING more than TELLING. More stories could use that.
And then, Focus as in: …engaging….charismatic…
This is noted as “stage presence” for a teller, but characters need all of this, too. Do writers check back and ask, “Is this a likeable character? Someone who is engaging, charismatic?”
And speaking of characters, they note: Characterization….characters are believable…
That’s one where I’ve read manuscripts where the ‘anything goes’ rule has been applied, except that doesn’t work if the reader isn’t playing along with you and also believing. Are you sure everyone’s drinking the Kool-aid you’re peddling?
And another essential: Pacing:….The story is presented efficiently and keeps listeners’ interest…
That’s a big flop area for a lot of stories–the pacing is too fast, and the reader has no time to settle into any scene, or it’s too slow and I’m flipping ahead looking for where this story actually starts.
They add in Effective Storytelling Composition but I’m only quoting the parts that a story teller needs for the written word:
Basic Story Structure
…clear and engaging opening.
…sequence of events is easy…to follow.
…ending has a sense of closure.
Okay, if I read one more synopsis in a contest that talks about how this it the start of a series, I’m going to quote the above to that person. Engaging opening, easy events to follow, and closure. It’s simple stuff, but simple takes more work than complicated. And I think most folks want to over-complicate.
….choice of language is descriptive and articulate.
….character text is clearly differentiated…so the listener understands who is talking.
How many folks read their own dialog aloud? Without tags? Can you tell which of your own characters is talking? This one caught me the other day, so that I knew I had to rewrite that passage so that character’s voice stood out better.
…a unique or creative use of language….
…creatively presents the sequence of events.
…the meaning of the story is artfully expressed or suggested….
And, yes, this is another place where the language has not been used in fresh ways, where the sequence of events is just too much like other already published books, or the writer may really not have anything to say. There’s no theme–meaning no there there.
This is about as good as it gets for a clear map to better story telling. I’m going to have to think about this myself, but I think there’s a workshop here, too.