Yesterday I wrote about how mastering the craft of writing is a long, hard and occasionally discouraging process.The blogger Velissima (who has once before inspired me to write a blog post with her insightful comments) made the point that a good story is crucial and even skillful writing can’t save a lousy story. That is a great point, and really got me thinking.
Is it all about the story?
I do believe that a strong enough story can pull its own weight. If you’ve got a killer story, it’s going to be heard. I remember once reading an autobiography, which was absolutely fascinating, all the while sort of suffering from the quality of the writing but still reading on because the story was so great. On the other hand I’ve also read stories that are essentially good stories, but written so badly that I just couldn’t finish them.
Some people naturally have a knack for telling interesting stories, other people can improve by practice. I may be naïve but I really do believe that. Not everyone can reach the same level, of course. Just like with any skill we all have different starting points. I do believe that everyone can tell their stories in an interesting manner, if they work on it. Taking one shot at it is not working on it.
I think making the story interesting is part of the craft of writing. You can write beautifully, but if you don’t engage your readers, you’ve failed as a writer. On the other hand, tell the same story right and it can become a killer story.
I’m not a born story-teller, but I love stories, and I feel like I have stories inside me that want to get out, thoughts and ideas that I’d love to translate into a physical form. They’re nudging at my ribs right now. Often I have no clue about how to transfer them onto paper. Sometimes they stumble out willingly. They’re like blind, deaf and dumb creatures, wandering around and eating me up inside. Once I do get them out, I need to tell their stories right or they’ll go right back in.
So how do you tell a story right? I know this in theory. You should follow the five Con’s:
- Conflict: There is no story without conflict. End of story.
- Connection: If a story is good, the reader connects with the characters. The better the connection, the more readers are engaged. This is why many people find gossip so interesting: they feel a strong connection to the person they are gossiping about, which makes them care even about pretty mundane things that happen to these people. Connection can be positive or negative.
- Conspicuousness: A great story needs to somehow stand out from the mass. I don’t think this necessarily needs to be anything too dramatic. Just like a politician, the story needs a personality to succeed.
- Congruency: The ending must be congruent with the beginning, which means that the reader must feel like the end fits the beginning. Everything doesn’t need to be resolved and the ending doesn’t need to be happy.
- Conciseness: A good story doesn’t use any more words than it needs to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything lengthwise.
This is not an official theory. I just made it up, severely constrained by forcing myself to only use words that begin with “con” but I do think that about sums it up.
What do you story-tellers think? Does this make any sense? Anything important that I left out? Anything beginning with “con”, perhaps? Consistency? Conspiracy? Constipation?