Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Telling a Good Story

Maven Carrie RyanSo... even though my book isn't out until Spring 2009 (April is the word on the street these days), I just got my first review! Click here to read Melissa Marr's thoughts on The Forest of Hands and Teeth. A huge thanks to Melissa for taking the time to read and comment on a debut book and thanks to my sister who read me the review over the phone because I was off in the mountains without internet access :)

Anyways, recently the Mavens all talked about those ah-ha moments in writing. As I said then, I get these moments all the time. I can have the same conversation about craft, read the same books on craft, have the same day dreams and each time I'll walk away with something new. The other day I had one of these ah-ha moments I wanted to share :)

I was reading a book and realized that while the writing for much of the book is great, some of the writing is just... writing. It's not great, it's not bad, it's not mundane or boring -- it's just words strung together getting points across. Honestly, I doubt anyone reading those particular passages would have thought anything of the way they were written -- like I said, they were written fine. They didn't stand out as gorgeous prose -- they didn't really stand out at all.

And suddenly I had this ah-ha moment! I realized that the purpose of writing a book is to tell a story (yeah, most of my ah-ha moments tend to also be duh! moments). I realized that sometimes we get so focused in on parts of our books that we forget to stand back and take in the big picture -- we forget to look at the story we're telling.

Sometimes I think it can be easy to focus on internal conflict versus external conflict versus raising the stakes versus showing all five senses that we forget that all of these devices serve to help us tell a compelling story. And I think sometimes you can look at individual scenes of a book and they work, but once put together as a cohesive whole suddenly the story feels off.

Here's a rather timely but odd example... it's March Madness, the season where everyone fills out NCAA brackets and joins office pools to see who wins. I love following the tournament but I never have the time to follow the whole season -- so when it comes to filling out my brackets I have NO idea who to pick. I do it all by gut and who sounds good and whose colors I like. JP was reviewing my choices and finally he said "each game you choose is totally plausible, when you look at your brackets on a game by game basis, it's solid. But overall there's no way you're going anywhere."

I've judged some contests recently where I see this happening -- scene by scene everything makes sense, but when you read the synopsis, when you look at those scenes adding up to become the whole, the story just isn't there -- it doesn't hold together.

So, along with all the myriad other things we remember when writing, don't forget that in the end we're all story tellers. How we tell that story (what devices we chose, the tone, the language, the POV) influences that story, but in the end, it's all about telling a good story.


Kelly Krysten said...

Excellent blog! And congratulations on that review! I definitely am excited to read your book. Your post makes a good point and I'll keep it in mind as I go through my WIP. Thanks.

Marnee Bailey said...

Carrie - this is a wonderful blog. I think it's so true that we have to tell our story first, then deal with all the other stuff.

Like Kelly, I'm excited to read your book too. The review was great!

Beverley Kendall said...

I think the only time I start obsesses about other things is when the writer stops telling me a great story. If the story was so great, I wouldn't get lost in the minuteness of the prose etc. I'm doubly happy when everything works together: great prose, wonderful story, engaging characters. That's why, I think, we can get the same story told in a dozen ways, I not like some versions of it, while some others literally take us away. It just has to all work together, and it has to do it VERY well to engage readers.

Carrie Ryan said...

Beverley -- that's exactly what I was thinking. If it's a great story I don't tend to mention how it's told as much. If the story is "meh" I notice if the writing is also "meh."

Kelly and Marnee -- I'm so excited that y'all liked the post and want to read FHT!!

Marnee Bailey said...

Not to go OT, but I just noticed that Darcy's a finalist in the GH!! SQUEEE!!!

Congratulations Darcy!!

Kelly Krysten said...

Oh how cool! Congratulations Darcy!!!

lacey kaye said...

Whoa, this is one of my biggest fears. I love the saying, "Writing a novel is like building a house with your face pressed up against the bricks." Indeed.

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Manuscript Mavens