Monday, September 29, 2014

Telling a Good Story: 5 Reasons We Might Not Pull It Off

Novelists work hard to devise romantic serendipity, thicken mysterious plots, twist thrilling conspiracies, and then draw in readers and keep them turning pages.

Telling a story we didn’t have to dream up, however, should be a breeze. Right? 

Well, no. Telling or retelling our real-life stories or stories we've heard, read, or seen is wrought with potential missteps for writers. To review five ways it's possible to fail at pulling off a good story, lets go with the collective we.

Go ahead. Tell it to Fluffy.
1.       We didn’t employ basic elements of storytelling. The stories we tell about being stranded on tropical islands or in elevators may be powerful, but not if they are meandering or we sound as though we merely took strolls through parks or sat on the floor of lift conveyances wondering about the meaning of life.
2.       We assumed personal memory is good enough. If we say we first held hands with our spouses during movie X, Y, or Z in high school, but none of those movies was made until we were married with kids, some movie buffs could be distracted from the power and point of our stories.
3.       We didn’t check verifiable facts. That Winnie-the-Pooh or Little House on the Prairie quote so germane to the story about us and our moms? Sure, many readers know the ones we're talking about; they are familiar. But if we write what we think the quote is, not what it actually is, Winnie and Laura and Pa aficionados everywhere could be dismayed and, again, distracted.
4.       We contradicted another story. Wait, didn't we already say we were stranded on those elevators before we were stranded on the tropical islands, not after?  Again, distracted.
5.       We never told anyone the story. Not telling (or reading aloud) our stories to ourselves, to Fluffy, or even to that random guy at Starbucks who is interested in crazy writers leaves us more vulnerable to sharing stories that don't work. Our ears often hear what our eyes and minds don't initially notice.

For writers, are you guilty of any of these watch outs? If so, what can you do to avoid them?

For readers, what bugs you the most about stories that "don't work"?

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