Anyone can tell a story but not everyone can do it well.
As a writer, it’s my job to paint word pictures in a fashion that puts the reader in the midst of the action. It takes a certain degree of talent, but a greater degree of experienced training. Any high school English teacher can attest that there is a certain degree of talent involved. Student A writes a paper about King Arthur that has the teacher yawning and reaching for the bag of Doritos. Student B – K are similar, while she stuffs one Doritos after another in her mouth and washing it down with a Diet Coke. Ah, but when she reaches Student L’s paper, she sits back in her seat, lifting the paper to her eyes as she takes in the magical illustrative essay that suddenly transports her to Camelot, but not in a way that she’s ever seen on Broadway or on the big screen. It’s engrossing, entertaining, and leaves her wanting more.
Isn’t that the reaction we’re after? I don’t want to be student A – K. I don’t care about the ones after L, I want my writing to grip the reader, put them on the edge of their seat, and keep them turning the page with bated breath.
Anyone can tell the story, but no one else can tell my story. My story has to be told by me, in my words, in my voice with my own brand of sagacious wit. Nobody can do the writing for me, and no one else can tell it exactly like me. I think that the wild imagination I have is a gift. I can dream up ideas in a flash, it’s the follow through that I get bogged down with. Yes, the commitment phobia thing.
I had a meeting this morning to review the workbook for an upcoming seminar that I am one of four speakers. The outline and topics for my presentation were approved. In fact, they want me to expand on a couple of items. Public speaking is not one of my fears, I figure if they are willing to listen to me I’ll certainly give them an earful. It’s easy to talk. I have an outline, and a person on the front row to flash me a sign when I have 10 minutes remaining, 5 minutes, and 2 minutes. I’ve tried to check the clock, that doesn’t work for me. I’m usually busy – arms flailing, right at the punchline when I get the signal to wrap it up.
I’ve mentioned the EIEIO principle – educate, inform, entertain, inspire, outrage. My job is to accomplish one or more of those things while speaking, and or writing. The entertaining is the easy part. Get people to laugh and everyone loosens up a bit. It makes the somewhat painful lessons easier to take. While they are laughing at the scene I just play-acted, I can slap their hands and tell them “NO, bad writer!” and they can handle it. I can inform them of a better way than the rut they’ve gotten into simply by shedding some light through my own struggles. With a little self-effacing humor, sharing my own struggles and accomplishments, and eventually knowledge I’ve managed to hit every one of those targets. The Outrage? It just happens. I get it, my personality just grates on some people and that’s ok. I make messes in neat and tidy boxes that people lock themselves inside. Some don’t want to come out of their box and they don’t appreciate anyone else in their box.
I distract them with a little standup comedy and some don’t realize that while they are looking at the right hand the left one is smashing their boxes. I’m weird that way. But you know what? In the end, more people express appreciation for my candor than the few who are outraged at my antics. My personal opinion is that if I were paying money to hear myself or any of the other speakers talk, I’d find something of value in what they said. I’d take away something positive about the experience. It’s sort of like going to a Chinese buffet. There are a variety of things to choose from, the perfect opportunity to taste new things in small amounts. Ever get a bite of something that you just had to spit out? Use a napkin if you do, it’s less messy.
I tried some Garlic Chicken at one restaurant and it was so bad I had to spit it out in the napkin. But I didn’t call it all a loss. I went back for something else to try, and ended up with chocolate ice cream. I like chocolate ice cream. It was the first time I’d had chocolate ice cream in a long time. So the experience wasn’t ‘the restaurant with the really bad garlic chicken’, it was ‘the place we went that I got some chocolate ice cream!’ It made everything better, and my experience ended with a smile.
My job is to paint the picture in a manner that my reader feels the tension, can taste the flavors, (bet you want chocolate ice cream now!), can smell the acrid odors in the air, and can feel the hairs on their arms prickling in anticipation as they dare to turn the page almost holding their breath.
See Dick run. See Jane run to Dick. Dick hugs Jane and kisses her. They do not see the pack of wolves approaching on the edge of the field. Oh my, what will happen to Dick and Jane? I just told you a simple scene.
Now let’s try it my way: Dick searches the horizon for his love. He spies Jane in the field below the parapets. Racing down the stairs, heart pounding he pushes aside the other guards in his race to reach his love. Jane turns, brushing the loose strand of hair behind her ear and sees a blur moving towards her. Realizing it’s Dick her heart leaps at the sight of him, her face alight with pleasure. Dick lifts her in his arms, twirling her around and slowly bringing her down till their lips meet. HIs lip on hers, one hand clutching at the mass of curls, the other on the small of her back. He’d thought of nothing but Jane during the battle, deciding that if he survived, he would marry her. Life without her wasn’t worth living.
As Dick poured his heart out to Jane between kisses they were unaware of the pack of wolves approaching at the far edge of the field. Unaware that the crowd had left them standing in the field near the main road, they were lost to everything around them. Suddenly Dick heard the panting as the animals approached. He moved Jane behind him and reached for his sword – it wasn’t there!
It was just a quick illustration so don’t get your hackles up but you get the point. Both are telling the story, but one is better. With a little editing I could make it the best scene, but that’s not the point. My point is that as a writer it’s my job to tell the simple outlines story in a manner that gives my readers the thrills and chills. In that particular scene, in my WIP Dick is known as Kyle and the wolves are demonic monsters that are determined to destroy humankind. Kyle has some powerful weapons but he’s not immortal like the monsters. Kyle bleeds when they attack, he falters and exposes Lexy (Jane) to the ravenous appetites of the beasts. When Lexy is seriously injured Kyle becomes enraged and vanquishes the beasts. He decides his life isn’t worth living without Lexy and makes a deal with the Fae. Bad news because they always extract a pound of flesh for everything they do.
Ian Fleming was a master of this with his 007 spy thrillers. Whether you’re writing romance, a spy thriller, urban fantasy, action adventure or any of the other genres; nobody likes a flat Stanley or cardboard backdrops. We have to be able to visualize it, taste the ocean salt in our mouths, hear the waves crashing on the rocks, and see the blood stains trailing at the edge of the road to the point where the limp body now laying on the rocks below was tossed. All of these lead to the most important part, leading the reader to a glorious climax!! What a thrill!