What is this whole process of storytelling? Sometimes we get so caught up in character arcs, plot points storyboarding, outlines vs pantsing, and God knows what else, that we forget what makes up a story and how to tell one. Sure all of the volumes on writing craft will take you down into the weeds of writing and break down every detail of the mechanics involved. However, sometimes it’s all those details that get in the way of telling a good story. I know a few writers who are so worried about the details that they become “Blocked”. We will discuss writers block in another post so I’m not going down that dark hole today.
Let me start by telling you a story:
A group of writers were sitting on a patio, drinking their tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Being the novice among the group, I asked the question, “What do you need to tell a good story?” They all took another bite of their sandwiches and then sipped their tea. Thoughtfully, One of the more successful of the group announced that, “All you need, to tell a story, is POV and ask the question, ‘What happens next?’” His comment was followed by much head nodding and quiet mumblings of, “Yea, verily, yea.” by the rest of the successful writers present. I took this pearl of wisdom and pondered it for some time. It now seems to me to be sage advice.
Point of View (POV). Who is telling the story? This should be the most interesting person in the story. In my example above, the most interesting person is Me! Notice I said most interesting and not most successful. The POV does not need to be from the main character. The two most used POVs are first person and third person. Third person can be further broken down to: close (intimate) view, or omniscient. Whole books have been written on these POVs so I will not go too deep here. The key thing to remember is that the POV dictates how much information can be given the reader and in what form that information will be delivered, narrative, dialogue, actions, etc.
Once you know who is telling the story, the thing that drives the story is the question, “What happens next?” Those of you who routinely write flash fiction should be very experienced with this question. All flash fiction and most writing exercises start with a prompt. For example: “I looked out the window of the airplane and …”. The writer then asks the question what happens next and writes a few sentences. Then, what happens next? Writer, writes a few more sentences and so on until the story ends or you reach so many pages that you have to make it a series. This is how stories are made.
A subset of the question what happens next is the “What if?” The quickest way I have found to get past a block is to ask the question “What if?” and write down the answer, even if it is off the wall and I know it will not make it into the final story. Then again it might! As writers we need to take risks, try new things, experiment. Desperation breeds genius. It is important not to judge the answer until you have given it a good chance to develop.
So, pick the right POV for the story, ask, “What happens next?”, then go tell your story.
What do you think?