Thursday, January 9, 2014

Weekly Writing Wrambling - How To Tell A Story

There is a dirty little secret about writing a story. I don’t think it is mentioned as much as it should be. I can’t recall being told about it in class or in a book. But at some point, I think any writer has to learn it, because without this little skill, you’re never going to be able to tell a story.

The fact is that no writer will get anywhere without a little bit of patience.

Yup, that’s the secret. Patience.

I mean, think about it. We all tell short stories on a daily basis—why we were late for a meeting, or why we chose to dye our hair blue. Not that hard. But the longer the story, the more you are going to have to exercise a little bit of patience. Beginnings and endings are easy (although I always find the first sentence to be difficult). But the middle can be the long, drab section where nothing seems like fun. But if you skip that part, then what happens? There would be no time for the characters to figure things out; no time for the plot to thicken; no time for the suspense to build. There needs to be a middle and it needs to be longer than the other parts, and it takes a lot of patience to build that. And it’s fairly easy to do that with a small anecdote about hair dye, but it gets infinitely harder when you are working for months on a novel.

It is a similar thing with foreshadowing. Well-executed foreshadowing is what makes books a joy to re-read. But you can’t be too blatant about it, even if you think that you have a wonderful method. I once wrote a short story where the big reveal at the end was that the main character was a dog. However, the story suffered considerably because I had all of these wonderful ideas for foreshadowing and I wanted to use them all. I didn’t want to be patient and let the endgame be a surprise.

Let us take an easy example: Harry Potter. (Spoilers ahead!) The endgame is that Harry must die by Voldemort, but if Harry chooses to sacrifice himself he can survive. But it takes seven books to get there. Rowling had to build up, for pages and pages, the story about Horcruxes and sacrificial love and Voldemort’s past. She could provide some hints, but if she had provided too many hints in the first three books, then the final book would have fallen flat. It took her years to get to the point where she could tell the ending that had been in her head for fifteen years. The amount of patience needed there was considerable, but I think we all agree that the story of Harry Potter is infinitely better for it.

So that’s the secret. Want to write a story? Try to be patient. It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary.

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