Story Is What Matters Most

No matter which path you take to publication –trade, self, osmosis, telepathy–telling a story that readers like enough to want to read more (or again) is paramount.  (IMHO.)

So, I thought I’d share some of the links I’ve found related to storytelling.

First, a few from Patricia C. Wrede because it’s really been too long since I showed some PCW love and her posts are incredibly helpful in terms of writing craft.

Simple and Complex

I like this one because it makes the point that not every character has to have complex, twisted motivations.  Some people are straight arrows.  There’s no questioning their path or motivations.  As PCW puts it,

“Simple characters don’t necessarily have fewer pieces than complex characters; it’s more that for a simple character, all the pieces point in the same direction, while for a complex character they point in different directions.”

When I think about this, I think of a marine buddy of mine who was 100% honest and ethical.  To the point that it created problems for him at times.  Like the time he couldn’t get his credit card to start charging him a higher rate now that he was no longer deployed.

Me, I’d try twice and then just shrug it off.  I consider myself honest and ethical, but I’m not going to go too far out of my way for incompetent idiots.

My buddy?  He kept calling and writing them until they finally raised the rate because, regardless of their stupidity or the amount of effort it required on his end, that was the right thing to do.

Imagine the complications a character like that could create in a story.

That leads me into the next PCW post: Macro and Micro

“…everything in writing has both a micro-level, sentence-by-sentence and paragraph-by-paragraph effect, and a macro-level overall effect, and everything really needs to work on both levels rather than only on one, and second, that all these bits and pieces and levels have to work together to form a pleasing and balanced whole.”

This post makes a great point.  That you can have everything working well at the sentence or scene level, but the story won’t work unless everything also flows together well.  That’s, to me, where chapter length and arrangement come into play, for example.

And, when I look at the long-term professional writers that I eventually quit reading, the macro issues are generally why I quit reading them.

(It’s why I refused to read the last Wheel of Time book.  The timelines were so far out of synch in the second to last book that it ruined everything for me when I realized that.)

I also liked her example of how being too clever too much can ruin a book.  It might be great at the sentence level or even the scene level, but too much of that and the whole book falls flat.

This is another reason that, while I think critique groups can have value (my local one reads ten pages a week), you really need betas who will read your novel or story from start to finish.  Because each little snippet can sound fine in isolation, but if it doesn’t hang together, none of that will matter.

(And it’s really hard to pinpoint macro issues from a ten-page sample.  I might have a gut instinct that there are macro issues there, but without seeing it all, I can’t be sure.)

So, there’s PCW.  I have more from her but let’s wrap this up with a little Chuck Wendig love as well.  (Even though I kind of sort of hate him right now because he’s in Australia and I’m not.)

Here is: Ten Thoughts on Story

I’ll just highlight his first thought.  Per Chuck:

“The three C’s in a story are, I think: complication, conflict, and consequence.”

PCW touched on this as well.  If you don’t have complication, you don’t have a gripping story.

Think about it.  Do you go home and tell your significant other about that perfectly routine trip to the grocery store?  (“I bought a cantaloupe.  They were on sale two for a dollar.  The cashier was a nice young man.  I paid with a credit card.”)

NO.  You tell them about the things that didn’t work the way they should.  (“Cantaloupes were on sale two for a dollar, but Ms. Henderson had taken the last of them.  She had TEN of them in her cart.  And she wouldn’t let me have just two of them.  So I…”)

I’d certainly rather hear that second story than the first.

(Although, my grandmother, bless her, does tend to tell me things a lot like that first story.  It’s amazing how important the price of vegetables is to her.  She’ll spend five dollars on gas to save ten cents on celery.)

Anyway.  The whole post is worth reading.

Looking at my list of links that I still haven’t shared on here, it occurs to me that all of the information that anyone could possibly need is out there.  If it isn’t in a blog then it’s on a forum or in a book.

Putting all of that into practice is, of course, the tricky part.  It’s one thing to know these things, it’s another to do them.

(As I so aptly demonstrate on a regular basis.  I have a few links saved up on how to do this thing right that I want to share soon.  I think they’ll go under the heading of “Do what they say, not what I do.”  Haha.)

(Not so sure it’s a good thing to know I’m not doing things the way you should and still resolutely continuing to do so.  Although I think I will be updating my standalone covers soon, so I’m slowly moving my way towards following all the advice that’s out there.  Slowly.)

(Well, that’s one of the reasons this blog exists.  So you can learn from my mistakes and not have to make them yourself.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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