Friday, December 16, 2011

The Role of Story

Producing a compelling story while writing well and with style is the shining goal of anyone who scribbles in their dark, lonely rooms and an objective too infrequently achieved.  But telling a good tale isn't about simply writing properly; it's being able to craft a story.

I think that writing properly, that is with the correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, is a skill that practically anyone can obtain through sheer persistence. You can even become an accomplished stylist, artfully stringing linguistic flourishes in pleasing cadences that speak to the reader's need for seamless continuity akin to poetry, but only after a lot of practice.  With even greater effort, you can possibly demonstrate such such supreme facility with language that the casual reader must keep a dictionary close to hand to grasp what is being presented.

The primary role of a writer is first to grasp the reader's attention to the exclusion of all else.  It is not difficult to writer something that will entertain, but being able to tell a compelling story that has heart, to challenge assumptions, to enlist the emotions, or to engage the reader in ways that speaks to their very soul requires that the writer has to go beyond mere skills.

I know very few writers who can create a story in a single pass.  I know some for whom the story emerges with only minor editing.  The vast majority of writers, I suspect, struggle like me to find the heart of their tortured prose and only after endless polishing does the story reveal itself. Often I do not know what the story is about until I complete the first draft, and most of the time, not even then.  In fact, most of the stories I've written were not obvious at the outset and, like a sculptor, I had to chip away the overburden of draft and grinding away the parts not needed to reveal the story within.

But where did that story come from? Was it there all along or did I impose it while editing? I have no answer to that question.

I doubt I will have time for another blog until the new year so I wish all of you a most blessed holiday season.

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