The Dirty Little Secret of Storytelling
Doing this for any length of time throws the covers off a few rarely spoken truths about storytelling. One soon realizes that the stuff that stands between success and frustration – for the writer and the reader – begins to congeal into a cliques of literary toxicity. Buckets of common weaknesses and omissions. For the most part we, as readers, don’t see these flaws in the published books we read, they’ve been revised into oblivion along the road to publication, often by someone like me. Because of this our personal learning laboratory is limited to critique groups (full of peers who may not know, either) and the rare ability to self-diagnose.
The Low Probability of Self-Diagnosis
If every writer could on a regular basis read what doesn’t work, and then recognize the underlying cause, they’d more easily side-step these story-killers in their own stories. Or so the hypothesis goes. But writing stories is always an inexact craft, made all the more unreliable due to the fact we almost always suck at assessing our own work.
A successful story is more than simply putting a great character, or a killer premise, or a powerful theme onto the page, followed by a few cycles of stir, rinse, repeat. Because even when you nail all the requisite story elements you may still end up unpublished. Success is ultimately the nuanced sum of a story’s parts, with a little secret sauce thrown in.
You can’t just make this stuff up.
The principles that make a story work are ancient, universal, flexible yet unforgiving.
More than a few writers study and attend workshops and write drafts for decades before they understand the standards against which stories are evaluated, and when they do it’s like a choir of angels singing the theme from Titanic. Others never get there because they reject those basic principles out of hand as formulaic. A vastly smaller but nonetheless hopeful group fails to fully grasp what a story even is, in the mistaken belief that it can be anything at all.
I confess, that latter group makes me crazy.
The simplification of these principles is like trying to define love itself – it masks the complexity of getting them right. But unless you want to leave your story to chance, leaving you with lottery-like odds, awareness leading to craft is your best strategy. Because each of these elements of craft, and more, can and should be targeted in your story development process, and then professionally assessed once it’s on the page.
Rest assured, when you put your story in front of an agent or editor, that is precisely what is happening – it is being professionally assessed. And those waters can be cold and unforgiving.
Among the many potential pitfalls that lurk along the writing road, three stand out as those with the most story corpses rotting in their bowels
André Beukes is an EU Management Consultant to international companies doing business in Europe.
He provides clients with practical business support that makes a real difference doing business in the EU.
“Put simply, I am here to help you meet your challenges. I believe in the importance of doing things correctly, meaning risks are reduced and problems are avoided.”