Dude, where’s your story?

Hi, peeps–

Hope everything finds you groovy. I’m currently working on my latest novels. One is the third installment of my science fiction series and the other is the fourth book in my New Mexico mystery series. And I like to keep up with blogs that offer tips and writing hints/fun stuff for authors. To that end, this post by writing guru Lisa Cron over at Writer Unboxed has some excellent advice.

The post, titled “The Biggest Mistake Writers Make and How to Avoid It,” notes that STORY is the crapfall for writers. That is, many writers don’t know what that is or how it works within the framework of their plot. You’re scoffing. But wait. Hear Lisa out.

So even though they have a great idea and their prose is gorgeous, there’s no story, thus no sense of urgency, and ultimately, no reader. It’s as simple – and heartbreaking – as that. And it’s extremely common.
(from “Biggest Mistake“)

Does that make sense? Really think about that. No story = no sense of urgency. Lisa tells us that THIS is what her definition of a story is:

A story is how what happens (the plot) affects someone (the protagonist) in pursuit of a difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (which is what the story is actually about).
{from “Biggest Mistake”)

A story, she says, is not about the plot. It’s about how the plot affects the protagonist. It’s thus INTERNAL, not external.

Thus, first and foremost, a story is about how the protagonist makes sense of what happens, and how she then reacts as she pursues her goal. In short, it’s not about what she does, it’s about why she does it.
(“Biggest Mistake”)

Cron then notes 5 reasons that can make your story go astray. I’ll give you Point 3, here:

3. Good novels very often trick us into believing that the writer never ventured into the protagonist’s mind, when in fact, that’s where the story unfolded.

Pull just about any novel off your shelf and look specifically for how the writer is conveying the protagonist’s internal reaction to what happens; you’ll see it everywhere. When reading for pleasure it’s nearly invisible, precisely because it’s how the novel gives us the sense that we’re in the protagonist’s skin. That’s why it’s maddening that writers are often warned not to include internal thought. Why is this advice given? Because when done poorly, internal thought can turn into long, rambling, irrelevant monologues that derail a story. So the best advice is simply this: learn to write internal thought well. After all, it’s what lets us know how the protagonist is really responding to what’s happening, and that’s where the power of story lies.
(“Biggest Mistake”)

Author Joan Opyr and I had a conversation about writing and writing styles a while back. She observed that good writing and good structure means that a reader is caught up in the reading. She said it’s when all the moving parts work seamlessly together. When they don’t — when there’s a little hiccup or a grinding of the gears — that means the novelist missed something in the telling of the story.

I struggle with story myself, and I know I’m not the only author out there who does. Cron leaves us with this advice: “. . .in the beginning, it’s all about nailing the story. When you get to that last draft (which will most likely be many drafts away), it’s about polishing the prose.”

Good reminder. Thanks, Lisa.

Happy reading, happy writing!

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