For the better part of my teenage years as a writer I’ve been obsessed with ideas. Four, five years can be easily summed up as being a quest for the million dollar idea, that brilliant one that was going to bring me success and fame and glory.
And I find that to be the mark of young, ambitious writers. They stress too much about the what part of this craft – ideas, settings, plot. They try to build a web of places and characters that’s going to awe the reader. Basically they’re trying too much.
I’m not saying that all the years I’ve spent obsessing about ideas have been fruitless. No, far from it. I’ve got some pretty good ideas from my endless brainstorming days, when I used to walk around the house, trying to find the next big thing. But I did one capital mistake then. I wasn’t really writing. But that’s not the point in today’s blog. The idea is that I soon understood, and with grave consequences, that I had good ideas, but at best I struggled to implement them, and at worst I just couldn’t.
That’s when I realized that the how part of writing is, if not more, than equally as important as the what part.
How do you write a story?
There’s a lot of stuff to say here, about technical matters such as point of view, tense, and other stylistic preferences. Writing style.
I always try to give my narrators, when I write in the first person, a reason for writing that story. Maybe he’s writing a diary, a letter, or even some sort of discourse, trying to write down some memories, or even writing an autobiographical novel. He’s trying to prove a point — something happened to him, and he’s writing the events down in an attempt to preserve them, or get them out of his head, or even hoping to find a bit of comfort. But he does so for a reason.
Even writers write for a reason. So, I try to give my narrators a reason for writing down their lives.
And now for the common sense part, but I do find that some writers find it awful to comply to this rule. The style should closely follow the narrator’s personality, and that’s a good way to prove a certain point. I’m a bit obsessed with writers — I write a lot about writers, because that way their style can be as good as I can be, without me getting all crazy about that part I told you about earlier. They do have a reason to write what they’re writing, but also they can do this at the best of their abilities. Well, the best of my abilities.
Someone who never wrote anything before wouldn’t really write that well. Probably they’d write some terrible stuff, regardless of how many books they’ve read. I’m making a compromise, of course, giving them some resemblance of style and such, because the very first thing someone would write would be basically unreadable.
What I’m really trying to say is that in the past couple of years I’ve been experimenting with the how part of writing. Trying to write stories in one paragraph, even in one phrase, trying to write stories with multiple narrators, writing in present tense (that’ not so experimental these days,) or simply mixing first person with third, or third with second (by the way, I love second person narratives.)
The best of stories leave you with a certain feeling, an after taste that’s still present long after you read them. And style has a lot to do with it, simply because style determines the way the reader absorbs the plot and characters.
I think that there has to be a right mixture of how and what. A story has to contain both a compelling plot, in which something has to happen, and, at the same time, a certain style that will match the events that are being presented to the reader.
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