Who’s driving this crazy thing?

16 Jul

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?


Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

12 responses to “Who’s driving this crazy thing?

  1. byjhmae

    July 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

    I think that’s great advice. I would add one more, however – how will I tell this story (i.e. voice). I’ve recently learned how critical voice can be to a story. I agree with you that writers get too wrapped up the mechanics of writing, so much so that it stifles creativity. I guess the great writers strikes a balance between understanding and following these “rules” and allowing himself to think outside the box.

    • Dennis Langley

      July 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      One must first know the rules before one deliberately breaks them. Great writers have the rules down cold. I always thought that voice came from a combination of the POV character and the author so that fits. Thanks for the add.

  2. char

    July 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Simply said, simply done (I hope). It’s true, I read a lot of other writers who seem so caught up in the logistics of writing that they forget to have fun with telling a story (and that stems from What if? and What happens next? scenarios). And POV is very important–finding the right voice to tell the story in the best way possible. Great post, Dennis.

    • Dennis Langley

      July 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      I’ve been told that it easy simple but, not easy. 😉 That makes sense. When I get stuck with pretty much anything I do, I go back to the basics. It seems to work.

  3. Matthew Wright

    July 18, 2013 at 2:53 am

    A lot of these lessons work for non-fiction too – ‘what happens next’ becomes ‘which part of the topic do I tell next’. Biographers have to ask exactly the same questions about POV as novellists, and for much the same reasons. I always find it intriguing how the skill-set has such commonality across the genres, though I suppose it stands to reason given the purpose of all writing is much the same.

  4. Dennis Langley

    July 18, 2013 at 8:44 am

    I hadn’t thought of that in my non-fiction articles, but you are right on.

  5. Pete Denton

    July 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    I usually write in third-person, but my last book I wrote from one characters POV and in first-person for the first time. I enjoyed it and even though I’m back into writing in third-person for my latest, the last project has helped me enormously.

    • Dennis Langley

      July 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Changing POV can have a huge impact on how the story comes across. A great exercise is to write a scene, then rewrite it from the POV of each person appearing in the scene as well as third close, third omniscient and second person, just to see how the story changes.

      • Pete Denton

        July 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm

        Second person kind of scares me. We had to write something in second person on my creative writing course. I can see why few people us that POV though I suppose like anything, if done well …

      • Dennis Langley

        July 29, 2013 at 6:26 am

        Second person only seems natural when writing a How-to article. I can’t imagine writing a novel in it.

  6. change it up editing

    August 11, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Excellent advice, Dennis, and I especially like your comment that one must first know the rules before intentionally breaking them. In the novel I’m editing right now, the author changes POV quite frequently, with a great deal of internal dialogue for all characters . . . and it really detracts from the story. The greatest plot can be quickly sidetracked by technical missteps.

    • Dennis Langley

      August 12, 2013 at 7:24 am

      Thank you. A blogging friend said recently that, “Writing has a constant learning curve.” I’m not sure it could be said better. Many times, I find myself wishing to go back in time to school days and English classes I daydreamed through. I was not the kid who dreamed of being a writer. I did not hang on every word relating to sentence structure and grammar. Now I wish I would have. Relearning something 40 years later can be such a pain. 😉


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