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View Full Version : Secrets for good storytelling! Got any?



dgiharris
07-01-2008, 02:33 AM
There have a been several 'secrets to good writing' threads, but i'd like to start a secret to good storytelling thread.

When we think of writing, we don't always think of storytelling and I notice that is where some of us have our problems.

The story is grammatically sound and mechanically correct, but there is something off, something not quite right, the story telling is off.

So one secret i've stumbled across is watching the DvD bonus features and commentaries by the writer/director.

As they go through the movie they give you the inside scoop on why they did this, or what they were thinking about when they did that...

I find that now, I have to watch the dvd commentaries and have found it an invaluable aid for teaching good 'storytelling'.

ANyways, how about you? Any tips, suggestions, or comments

Mel...

aliajohnson
07-01-2008, 02:58 AM
For me, the story telling aspect is where I stop writing like a writer and start writing like a reader.

The best way I know how to explain that is--if a sentence/paragraph/scene is "correct" in terms of grammar, pacing, POV, etc, that's great, but if it's not something I'd want to read in someone else's book, I'll scrap it and try again. If necessary, I'll scrap some of the writerly rules as well--whatever I feel it takes to make the work something I'd want to read.

It's possible I'm not explaining this well. It's been a loooooong day. My brain's a little muzzy. :)

maestrowork
07-01-2008, 02:59 AM
I think that's the problem with schools -- we study good grammar and how to write coherently and how to effectively express our thoughts and logics, critical thinking and analysis, etc. But when it comes to storytelling and creative writing, there really isn't much there. I was talking to some teachers while I was doing signings and workshops and they agreed. There's literally ZERO in terms of HS and even college (unless you're in a creative writing program).

Anyway, I think there are so many different things in terms of storytelling:

- Character development, and characterizations (dlalogue, action, etc.)
- Point of views
- Narrative voice
- Plotting (and you can probably write a whole book on that)... twists, suspense, conflicts, etc.
- Show vs. tell
- Pacing, structure, etc.

All of these are very important. But I'd say if you screw up on, say, point of view or show vs. tell (as many writers so) -- and even if you have poor characters -- you can still achieve good storytelling as long as you have good plotting techniques and an engaging narrative voice.

They all have to work together, though. Like good cooking, you can't just have one good ingredient. They all have to go well together. You can ease up on the salt or the garlic, but if you don't have the basics and if they don't work together, you have a mess.

SPMiller
07-01-2008, 03:01 AM
Conflict conflict conflict. Every scene must be driven by conflict. (Sequels, not so.)

If I don't want to write something, why should I expect someone else to want to read it?

Mumut
07-01-2008, 04:29 AM
I read my work out loud so I can hear it as a story teller, not a writer. I give talks at schools, libraries etc and need to know the book flows.

hammerklavier
07-01-2008, 05:39 AM
My grandpa tells some truely riveting stories, his grammar isn't always correct, and that probably just adds to the story. Not just conflict though, a lot of his more humorous stories have suspense as the most central element.

Harper K
07-01-2008, 05:48 AM
I take apart my favorite novels -- I'll do a close reading and make notes in the margins where I can see the author's ramping up tension, or introducing a character who's going to be pivotal later, or just using a word or phrase that doesn't seem like much in Chapter 2 but is going to have a huge impact in Chapter 18.

Then I write an outline of all the major events in the book and make sure I can see how one event leads to another, and why every single one is there. Sometimes I'll go even further and try to write a 2-page synopsis or a query letter for the novel in question.

I've done this with 3 books so far, all in the genre in which I write (contemporary YA), and it's been hugely helpful. A couple of times I've even typed up my favorite pivotal scenes just so I can see how the rhythm of the language works at the climax of the book.

dgiharris
07-01-2008, 06:11 AM
I take apart my favorite novels -- I'll do a close reading and make notes in the margins where I can see the author's ramping up tension, or introducing a character who's going to be pivotal later, or just using a word or phrase that doesn't seem like much in Chapter 2 but is going to have a huge impact in Chapter 18.

Then I write an outline of all the major events in the book and make sure I can see how one event leads to another, and why every single one is there. Sometimes I'll go even further and try to write a 2-page synopsis or a query letter for the novel in question.

I've done this with 3 books so far, all in the genre in which I write (contemporary YA), and it's been hugely helpful. A couple of times I've even typed up my favorite pivotal scenes just so I can see how the rhythm of the language works at the climax of the book.

THis is a brilliant idea. I've done the 'diet' version of this where I re-read a few of my favorites. But I think you're really onto something. I think I will pick up a few of my favorites and try your outlining, synopsis and note-taking.

great suggestions. Keep em coming y'all

Mel...

Bartholomew
07-01-2008, 08:53 AM
The bad guy always needs a motive other than, "I am evil, bwahaha."

Not really a secret, but some authors - even published ones - seem to forget it.

Sean D. Schaffer
07-01-2008, 10:13 AM
I believe story should come first, writing second. Focusing on the writing is great, AFTER you've started your edits. I think the best thing any writer can do is get the story down on paper in the first draft, then worry about their writing quality in the following versions.

Linda Adams
07-01-2008, 03:04 PM
Okay, here's mine:

Identify the hook (what makes it stand out from all the other similar books, which isn't necessarily what the story is about) before starting the book. This has been the greatest influence on my current WIIP. It gives me both a focus to stay on track and great opportunities.

Nothing is sacred. Be flexible and willing to change, even if it means tossing out favorite scenes or the entire book to make the story work. That was a lesson learned from the first book I wrote. I didn't want to waste the effort, so I kept scenest hat didn't work in and tried to make them fit. I ended up eventually tossing the entire book.

If you want to write fiction, read fiction. It'll show, trust me. The ones we had trouble with in my critique group were the people who didn't read fiction. They couldn't comprehend or implement the story-related comments about their work that people kept telling them. One was 70K into his book, and he had yet to even find the story itself.

BlueLucario
07-01-2008, 04:30 PM
If you want to write fiction, read fiction. It'll show, trust me. The ones we had trouble with in my critique group were the people who didn't read fiction. They couldn't comprehend or implement the story-related comments about their work that people kept telling them. One was 70K into his book, and he had yet to even find the story itself.

That's not advice. That's common sense. :D How are you going to write without reading?

This is a pretty convienient post. I really need advice from here. So I'll check back from time to time.

donroc
07-01-2008, 04:47 PM
"A likeable character struggling against overwhelming odds to achieve a worthwhile goal." Forgot where I read this.

Kalyke
07-01-2008, 05:33 PM
Become an intelligent listener and encourage people to tell you stories by learning the conversational skills to get the stories out. Learn to tell people your daily or interesting events in a way that is intelligent and entertaining. Most writers I have ever read about may work in silence, alone, but most also know how to talk. Writing is just codifying into letters and rules the things that are in your brain. If you draw blanks, and can't tell a story verbally, can you tell one "in writing?" So I practice the "campfire-story" method. I talk my story out loud. I also talk to people, and keep quiet so I can hear their stories. The way I stumbled upon my present projects was to listen to other people's stories.

Oh, you also need to know how to tell a story when you hear it, as opposed to words-strung-together. I think a lot of beginning authors who have problems with plots have not come from environments where there is a lot of traditional story telling.

tehuti88
07-01-2008, 10:30 PM
For me it's a lot about character. The grammar and spelling can be perfect, and the plot can be really exciting, but if I can't empathize with the characters, it's all for nothing.

I picked up a book in the library once which had exactly the kind of plot and theme I was then interested in reading in fiction, and avidly began reading. The characters were little more than cardboard. They did things, but I didn't care about what they did, because I couldn't care about them as people.

I didn't bother finishing the book. Instead I was angered that somebody took such a great concept and made it into such a waste.

Writing to me becomes good storytelling when I care about the characters and can even place myself in their heads, or have them place themselves in mine--we become interchangeable. While it's true I usually won't bother reading more than a sentence in something with lousy spelling and grammar, I'll be just as unforgiving with a story with lousy characters, too. Sure, I might make myself read it, but I won't enjoy it; it won't be a good story.

The old storytellers around their campfires knew all about character. They created character drama and MADE people care. That's why their stories lasted so long.

willietheshakes
07-01-2008, 11:26 PM
Talking around your point...

Watching the bonus features on DVDs -- commentaries, deleted scenes, etc -- not only helped get me through the editting process on BIW, it actually changed the way I looked at my work in a fundamental way.

Nothing is sacred: if a scene doesn't work in a movie, it gets cut. If the pacing doesn't work, something gets tightened. And seeing the scenes that were cut from some movies, seeing that they were, in fact, good scenes, but they just didn't fit with the film or slowed its pacing, helped me to let go of some scenes that needed to go. I loved some of those scenes (and entire sub-plotlines), but they needed to go, for the sake of the book as a whole.

I realize this doesn't sound like much of a realization, but at the time it was a revelation. And marked a shift in paradigms for me.

Sassee
07-02-2008, 03:07 PM
Here's my rule of thumb:

If I'm bored writing it, the reader is going to be bored reading it.