BTS: Writing vs. Storytelling
“Anyone can write a book. Not everyone can tell a good story.”
I don’t remember exactly when or where I was when I heard that, nor can I recall who said it. I do know that I was with other avid readers at the time, and we were discussing why some books seem to hit better than others.
Regardless, those words stayed with me, and have been my saving grace on more than one occasion when I get bogged down in the rules (show don’t tell, avoid passive voice, slash adverbs, don’t talk about that, etc)
The stories that burrow into our souls and stay there don’t do so because of impeccable grammar or proper use of pronouns or a lack of passive tense. A book could be technically pristine, and still be less interesting than a four-hour documentary on the right way to watch paint dry. (My sincere apologies if you are, in fact, riveted by such things.)
I mean, think back to your school days. Do you remember those literary classics you had to read? Did you enjoy them? Did any of them stick with you beyond a vague sense of irritation because you were forced to read them?
I’ll be honest. While I love to read, some of those assigned classics fell into the watch paint dry category. I’m talking primer and double coat coverage level boring here.
Before you clutch your pearls, hear me out. I’m not dissing the classics. I’m not saying they’re not good reads. I’m saying that, of those that are, it wasn’t the adherence to academic standards that made them such.
For example, I don’t think Hamlet and Macbeth have endured because Shakespeare was a boss with iambic pentameter. Brave New World and 1984 weren’t heralded as some of the most prescient novels ever written merely because of Huxley’s and Orwell’s mastery of prose.
I think the opposite holds true as well. I bet you’ve read some books that may not have been very “well written,” but that you couldn’t put down. Books that, even without impeccable editing and sentence structure, kept you turning page after page and reading late into the night.
Because they were good stories about characters with whom we can identify. In those pages, we recognize the same base emotions that apply to us all, regardless of time period, location, or background.
Fear. Betrayal. Desire. Love. Distrust. Revenge. Sacrifice. Regret. Elation. Those are the kinds of things that make a story worth telling, and more importantly, worth reading. I bet every one of us can look at each of those words and think of a time when we’d felt something similar and to some degree.
And that’s where the true magic of storytelling lies.
It’s more than just reading words on a page or listening to them around a campfire. A good story is one that you feel.
That’s what turns a good read into a great read—a great story—for me.
As an author, I try to incorporate those things into my books, whether I’m writing contemporary or paranormal, light or dark, sweet or steamy (and yes, I write them all!) Things like loneliness and a desire to be cherished can apply to a thousand-year-old vampire as easily as they can a former Navy SEAL or an obsessive-compulsive paralegal.
Therein also lies the timelessness of such tales. They can be told over and over again, in literally thousands of forms, regardless of genre.
And that right there is what I’m shooting for. I want you to feel my stories. I want you to carry the memories of how they made you feel so that someday, you might want to read and experience them again. Because I don’t want to just be a good writer. I want to be a good storyteller.