If More Isn’t Better, What Is?


Last time I made a case for writers slowing down their writing rather than flooding the market with less-than-best novels. With the change of status of the e-book and the ease, as well as the lower cost, of publishing that format, authors may be tempted to increase how fast they put out books rather than to slow down. I think that would be a mistake.

Writers should continue to improve. How can they when they barely have time to get a story down and turned in on deadline, even as they put in hours promoting the previous book?

But how, exactly, can a writer improve?

Last time I mentioned that characters can improve with time. As a writer gets to know the characters, they become like real people and therefore behave on paper in realistic ways. Gone will be the lines of dialogue the author forces on them because readers need to know certain things. Instead conversation, thoughts, and actions will fit naturally because this particular character would say, think, and do these particular things.

But it’s a stretch to make characters unique. No two people are alike, and an author needs to work hard to make no two characters alike, in what they do, how they think, how they sound. In addition, no character should fit a mold. Just like an author should avoid cliched expressions, she must avoid cliched characters.

Along those lines, a writer aiming for better, not just more, should avoid cliched answers to the difficulties she puts her characters in. Finding an uncommon way of escape is a challenge on several levels. One is to find something that hasn’t been done to death already. The other is to foreshadow it properly so that the problem isn’t solved by some force or mechanism that appears conveniently at just the right moment when nobody (especially the reader) expected it or looked for it.

Besides believable plot points that are properly foreshadowed, the better plots are not convoluted. Once I had an editor call a synopsis I wrote “convoluted.” He was right. I hadn’t written the book yet and put the synopsis together based on ideas I had for the story. I knew where I wanted to go but not what all I wanted to happen on the way. I put in all the interesting things I considered. It was too much and of course as I began to develop the story, it was obvious to me which ideas didn’t fit.

Unfortunately, it seems like some books retain all the interesting ideas even if they don’t fit. Plots should not be hard to follow. They can have interesting twists, certainly, but the bottom line should be, the protagonist has an objective and a plan of action. So does the antagonist, and the two are on a collision course.

Most importantly, however, books should say something. Unless they are modeled on fables in which a stated moral is part of the story, the something a book says should be woven into the fabric through symbolism, character growth, plot developments, and resolution.

Such weaving takes time and is often a result of extensive revision.

I could go on and discuss character motivation and language and imagery and subplots and a host of other things that better stories have, but I think it’s probably time I put this particular rant back into its cage for a while. Let me end with a simple answer to the title question: If more isn’t better, what is? Creativity — and that takes time.

The Art of Storytelling, Part 2


I’m convinced that God made all of us creative.

I know, I know, lots of people out there will think, Not me! But hold on. God said He made Man in His image. Obviously He didn’t give us His transcendent qualities, like omniscience, so what did He mean, We’re made in His image?

Many things, and I submit, creative is part of the package. The whole story, of course, includes the Fall which has had far reaching effects on us, including on our creativity.

Even without the Fall, I doubt if we all would have expressed our creativity in the same way. In other words, even in a perfect world, I think some people would be better pianists than others. Some would paint better and some would write better.

But is only the very best in each class considered creative? or artistic? Of course not.

Oh, I almost forgot. Another way God made us in His image is as communicators. He made us relational beings because He, the Tri-unit God, is relational. He communicates.

So there you have it. We are creative and we communicate. Any wonder so many people want to write a book? Millions of us do, polls say. And I think that is absolutely unsurprising because it is consistent with the way God made us.

The problem, as far as I can see it, is that some people think wanting to write a book means they are equipped to write a book.

If you’re thinking, Hold on, Becky, you yourself just said we are all creative, stay with me. 😉 We are indeed creative, but creativity still needs to be cultivated, as does the skill to communicate. That we have these capabilities doesn’t negate the hard work involved in acquiring the finished product.

Hard work. Some times people look at professional basketball players and think they are so “lucky” to be born with such ability. Those people don’t realize the hours those young men spent as kids and youths alone in a driveway, park, or gym, shooting jump shot after jump shot. Or running laps, lifting weights, or going up against grown men and having their shots rammed back in their faces.

Talented? Yes, absolutely, but the ones who reached the professional ranks are also hard working. And they know how to take coaching.

So back to Storytelling. Some people are “natural” storytellers but need to learn how to write down the stories swirling through their heads. Others know how to write the stories but don’t think they have anything interesting to tell. Then there are those hard, hard workers who will learn whatever you put in front of them, but somehow their stories seem a little mechanical.

I suspect there are storytelling secrets writers in each of these categories can learn—or maybe we can learn them together. That’s what I’m hoping we can accomplish in the next few days on this subject.

Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 5:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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