Friday, July 13, 2012

Story vs Craft

I'm beginning to realize that the single biggest difference between published authors and unpublished authors isn't the talent in how they write. In fact, there are many instances of published writers who aren't good writers at all. Rather, its the story its self. Which is a huge part that a lot of writers don't pay attention to.

In writing classes around the world we are taught the basics of good writing i.e active vs passive, the dreaded adverbs, show vs tell, concrete & simple language, natural dialogue, the use of fullstops and commas, the descriptive process and POV. These are all great, and if you master them, then yes, you will become a good writer. But there are many good writers out there. The difference between published and unpublished writers isn't how good they are at writing, instead, it's how they tell a story.

Have you ever browsed a book store and opened a few of the best sellers, to only think to yourself "what is this shit? I can do a better job. Look at all the dam adverbs, hell, here shes even telling instead of showing," These moments aren't necessarily bad in themselves, they usually inspire us to get down to work. But you must remember, the average person on the street, who doesn't care about writing technique AT ALL, just wants to lose themselves in a book. They are not going to see the adverbs, or the fact that its being told at points. They are just going to see the images of the plot flash by through their mind, and if they feel engaged they will read on, if they don't, they will put it down.

Story matters more. Instead of fretting over that adverb, look at your story. Does it help the story? If the answer is yes, then include it. Story trumps the correctness of the writing everyday of the week. Take "50 Shades of Grey" for example, or "Twilight." I'm not bagging out these books, but they aren't generally known for their mastery of the written word. They are just good stories who appeal to a mass target audience. fourteen year old girls getting wet over Edward don't suddenly put it down because they see an adverb used poorly. They will usually be so engrossed in the tail that they don't even see the words. They just see the images.

Your job as a writer is really to be invisible. A mastery of writing technique is designed to give your words the power of not being seen. A reader engaged in the story well be reading at such a pace that the words fade into the background, and the images that the words express will be the only thing that matters. If your writing is really bad, then the reader will continually be brought back to the sentences, and fail to lose themselves. But if the writing is average, and the story is strong, then a lot of the time the story will overpower this process. But the opposite doesn't ring true. If your writing is amazing, and yet the story sucks. Then the words will be the only thing the reader sees. If they were interested in pretty words then they could just open a Hallmark card.

All good writing does is gives the reader the opportunity to be swept away, nothing more. But a good story will over come writing flaws everyday of the week.

Of course the ideal scenario is to master both. Then you stand the best chance (duh), but so many writers fail to master the art of story telling. So how does one "master" this art? Well many will say its an art, and can't be taught. I'm a rational guy. I like to think everything can be chunked down to a philosophical system that follows logic. Here's a few tips:

1.) There must be a core conflict. There has to be something that the character has to overcome. This sounds obvious, but I have fallen into the trap of writing something where the character is just walking around looking at stuff, believing that the vivid language was more then enough to sustain the reader. Wrong

2.) Shit has to be going wrong constantly. Over and over again the character has to be getting pissed on by the world around him, and the reasons for him overcoming these obstacles has to keep getting more important, until a final release comes when he overcomes them for good. Or does he?

3.)Don't jump the gun. Keep everything in line with what the main character knows. This is really a POV technique, so it's not so much story related. But I think it crosses over into both domains. Then when the events happen the reader will feel along with the character.

4.) There has to be something the character learns at the end. The reader must feel like they have achieved something by sticking with you for the whole piece.

5.) Read number 2 again. I can't repeat this enough. Put your character through hell, and then give them some relief, but only for a short while...

There are many books out there on story and plot. Just Google some and get stuck into it. You will be greatly rewarded for your study. And remember, when your fretting over every sentence, wondering if it's good writing, just ask yourself, "is this serving the story?"


P.S This book gets a good wrap on the "art of plot structure:

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