The Art of Storytelling, Part 3

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What are the chances there are actually some “secrets” to the art of storytelling? I know I used to think that was so, and if I just learned them and plugged them in appropriately, then publication awaited, as did best-seller status.

OK, you all can stop laughing now. You don’t know what it costs me to come clean about this! 😮 It’s not easy to admit I was so naive or so … proud. Yep. There’s really no other way to say it.

I know some writers will tell you it’s important to be confident. You need to believe in yourself, they say, or at least believe that God has you doing what He wants you to do. Of course the latter is true, but there’s a fine line between believing you have a story God wants you to write and believing your story is what the reading public needs, and in fact has been waiting for all these years.

OK, maybe the line isn’t so fine. But since I’m confessing, I might as well take you back to my school days when I used to scoff at the teachers who said we should read over our work when we were finished and make any necessary changes. Were they kidding? What I wrote was my best effort and it was just what I wanted to say. It needed no changing. How dare they suggest it?

Except, I finally got a teacher who not only corrected our papers but made us change our errors, and suddenly I discovered errors upon errors, many of which I could have corrected because I knew better—except I just hadn’t looked over my work before turning it in.

There was also one assignment—the details allude me (I probably blocked it out due to humiliation!)—in which I remember distinctly thinking, What is this teacher thinking? I’m not going to change a WORD of this masterpiece. This is the best bit of writing she’s going to see, and if she doesn’t realize it, well, her loss! OK, as I said, I don’t remember the details, so those weren’t my exact thoughts, but they couldn’t be far off.

Where am I going with this? I believe the first step to really learning the art of storytelling is to be teachable. Ironically, when I was teaching English, I discovered a good number of my students had similar thoughts to my childhood ones, but now it was my turn to convince them that there might be a thing or two they could do to improve their writing.

Being teachable, however, has several branches, and I think it’s important not to neglect any. I want to look at one of those tomorrow.

Published in: on January 9, 2009 at 2:05 pm  Comments (6)  
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  1. Hey! I’m coming in late to this interesting discussion. Love it.

    I find it interesting that some people who sing horribly enter those reality TV shows thinking they can sing. And some writers who can’t write send off manuscripts or self publish their books, just sure that the world is going to love their work.

    I want to fly, but God has not equipped me with wings. If I ignore that fact and I jump off the Empire State Building, I deserve to be creamed on the sidewalk below.

    But those Wright brothers really wanted to fly and they didn’t have wings either. They studied and worked and spent time and money and finally, after years of work, they flew. Others wanted to fly without the plane and so they came up with other ways to compensate for their lack of wings.

    Still, with writing, there are those with natural ability. Birds to the Wright brothers’ airplanes. I wish I were brilliantly full of natural ability, but I’m not. So I muddle along, studying and hoping to find ways to compensate for my lack.

    What I have always found interesting, though, is that those without natural talent can’t see their deficit. It’s always scared me. I’ve always wondered if I’m delusional like so many others are.


  2. Becky, you wrote, “I believe the first step to really learning the art of storytelling is to be teachable,” to which I say a resounding AMEN.

    As a freelance editor, I have attempted to help some writers who really don’t want the help; they pay me to edit or proofread their work but expect me to write a glowing letter of praise without noting plot holes or poor writing or weak characterization. They resist advice, resist the notion that their words are not sacred and can be changed. It’s frustrating to work under such conditions, and I try not to waste my time. If I detect an unteachable manner at the beginning, I will turn down work, even if it pays well, because I’d rather help those who truly want the aid.

    In saying all that, however, I do not put myself on a pedestal, or declare my word the only law in literature. Many years ago, while in junior high, I believe, I heard this advice from one of my teachers: “If you are struggling with a subject, teach it to someone else. You’ll start to understand it then.” And it has proven true: It is in the helping of other writers that I have learned the most about the failings of my own writing.


  3. Thank you for the tips!!! I too am writing Christian Fiction 🙂


  4. Sally, your flying analogy is great. Except, I think we all have wings. I think God made us creative and He made us communicators. The difference will be that some of us have eagle wings and some of us robin wings. Are eagles better than robins? No, just different.

    In other words, I don’t think everyone HAS to write fiction because God made us creative communicators.

    Regardless, those who do write fiction can improve, even as a bird that eats well will be able to fly higher and longer than one undernourished.



  5. Keanan, I didn’t realize until recently that you edited.

    I’ve had a similar experience to the ones you describe, but for the most part I’ve been really, really blessed by the writers I’ve worked with. I don’t know if this is a good plan or not, but I offer three free pages of editing so potential clients can know what they’ll be getting.

    And the bottom line, for me as an editor is, this is someone else’s work. They have to decide whether or not they except my corrections. But I’ll admit, that’s where I can see the importance of being teachable.



  6. Heather, thanks for stopping by A Christian Worldview of Fiction. It’s always good to connect with another Christian author. Hope you find more helpful discussion here, and do add your voice as often as you like.



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