And Vice Versa: Storytelling Fears

When I write I become more self-conscious┬áthan if I’m walking out of the bathroom with a booger still in my nose. I’ve learned to quell this feeling, but there are two reasons why my writing progress would come to a screeching halt.

Since I’ve began this writing journey for keeps at age fifteen and started sharing my work I’ve noticed patterns. I can write fairly well (and I’ll be sure to show that soon) but I tend to lack clarity in my storytelling and I find myself having to explain in a rather long-winded way what things mean. My friend also read the book Wither by Lauren DeStefano where she thought the idea of the story was interesting but was poorly executed. I was relating to this even though I’d never read the book.

It can happen in reverse, with the writing being great but the story is boring or just cliche or even in bad taste. And then of course is the ultimate fail of having both problems which goes without saying isn’t worth anyone’s time or money. We need to determine what makes a good book good.

I think the writing craft is more objective and is therefore easy to see why this is so important. No one can bother to read a book that can’t grasp basic grammar or rhythm or has spelling errors in it. Styles of writing constantly change. In earlier times you could write as much description as it took to make you immersed in that world or setting. The language reflected the time and the longer and more drawn out the better. Now our attention spans are so short you have to come up with these things called ‘hooks’ and if you don’t catch a readers attention by the very first sentence you can’t bait them back. It’s a conditioning of a world that may be moving too fast.

There are numerous rules to follow too. No prologues or flashbacks. Only the most stellar yet brief descriptions. Organic dialogue that isn’t choppy. No info dumping… :/ And we wonder why it’s so hard to get published today. Not to mention that nearly all of these rules are broken by many new and seasoned authors ranging from Amazon bestsellers to the local thrift store toss-ups. They are still published. Someone out there took a chance on them or thought they were good enough for the public eye and a small paperback.

I’ve realized that if you have a unique perspective, appeal to a wide audience or offer something that’s always in demand you can get away with many things. Yet many of the rules or writing are in place for a reason. Spelling, grammar, pacing, and plotting are the foundation of good writing and unless you have a really good excuse (take Sapphire’s novel Push, where the main character is illiterate and the story is being told from her perspective) you shouldn’t shake these foundations.

A story is subjective. Even with the building blocks of writing firmly beneath you a person can read the first two chapters of your book and put it down. They may never pick it back up again either. We’re assuming this person knew what they liked though, and understood that they went to a certain section of the library or bookstore for something they could enjoy. So why didn’t they pick up the story or keep reading it?

Every genre has a standard. Fantasies are expected to be long and extravagant, thrillers are loaded with suspense right on the first page. Historical fiction better have its facts straight. You get me, I’m sure. Standards are there, but so are surprises. When someone has a book about a dystopian future on another planet since Earth is destroyed or a thriller where the killer is the detective playing up the role, we get excited.

Then you realize that the dystopian novel is essentially the Hunger Games on Jupiter, or the thriller is more horror than suspenseful. Maybe the plot meanders into nowhere or the main character is totally unlikeable (even a villainous character can have something to relate to the reader). Storytelling flaws, unlike writing flaws, are not easy to fix and are extremely dependent on the genre, tone and the author’s own personal meaning and style.

Needless to say, bad writing and storytelling scare me. But I’m not afraid of constructive criticism and I feel that is the backbone of what makes writers and artists good. What are your thoughts? Are these fears justified or should we fear nothing at all and dive in?