First of all, Happy Halloween! 🎃
It’s the end of October, which means we’ve successfully made it through another Plotober! This month, we’ve covered a lot of ground: We’ve talked about finding the kind of story you want to tell, and how emotions have impact, and using what characters want and what they fear to add compelling motivation. We’ve discussed building the worlds our characters live in and adding details using our five senses to bring a scene vividly to life. And we’ve looked at adding a hidden twist and using outlines as roadmaps to guide the first draft.
Now, all these posts are focused on the process and techniques of plotting a story. That’s what I set out to do for Plotober, and I hope that the tips and exercises are helpful. And today I want to share one last piece of advice, maybe the most important piece of advice of all:
Write the story you want to write.
Storytelling is Personal
Stories are personal. They have to be! Can you imagine how boring the world would be if authors were machines churning out stories to fill a quota, following the exact formula for a good book or a good movie? (Oh wait, I just described Hollywood. . . but I digress.)
Well, it’s good that creative works are not made by machines. They’re made by people. People like you and me, who are writing the kinds of stories they want to read, who are writing things shaped by their own experiences and preferences and vision. Everyone has a unique story to tell – and that why it’s so much fun to be a reader.
My belief is that we all have a story inside, waiting to be told. And we already know what that story is. Maybe we don’t yet know consciously, granted, but we know the kinds of stories we like. We know what kind of story we are aching to read, that doesn’t yet exist in the world. And we know what kind of story is satisfying to tell.
But if we get too caught up in what other people are telling us we should write, it’s easy to lose sight of what we wanted to convey. Advice like, “Fantasy novels are written like this,” or, “Don’t go over 100,000 words,” are based on what is commonly publishable, not what is a good story. Well, there are probably many 100,000 word fantasy novels written following a certain formula that are enjoyable reads, but slavishly following the guidelines isn’t good either.
What I’m trying to say here is, trust yourself. You already have that good story within you. All you need to do now is give it form.
Write the story you want to write, not the story other people are telling you to write.
On Advice: Giving, Taking, and Not Taking
The thing about advice is that it’s either too general useful in only many situations, or too specific to one situation as to be not useful in most of them. And this was a problem I ran into with every post this month as I pondered what to write. Will this technique translate well? Is this something that will actually be useful? So I erred on the side of generalities, in hopes that my essays are helpful in at least some situations, if not all of them.
I think this is perfectly natural. All I can do is take my own experiences and find a way to convey those lessons and feelings to others. And isn’t that what writing is at its core? Every time we write something, be it fiction or nonfiction, essay or novel, we are trying to communicate something: A theme. An emotion. A lesson. Something important to the writer, which we hope we can convey to the reader.
Unfortunately, sometimes this means that the things we write don’t resonate with the reader. And that’s okay too. I doubt there is a single piece of creative work out there that resonates with every person in the world. And advice, no matter how well-meaning, cannot apply to every situation ever. It’s just impossible.
The thoughts I’ve shared this month are my own solutions to problems I’ve personally experienced. So, while I hope that my little observations and tips have been helpful, even in a small way, they are not the be-all and end-all of the writing code. I’m sure that as I continue to write and grow, my own philosophy will continued to evolve as well.
And Now. . . .
If there is anything I want you to take away from this series, it is this: Trust yourself. The best story to write is the story you want to write. So don’t hold back, and don’t try to change it because some advice says that you should do such-and-such if you want to be a published / popular / successful writer.
Everyone has a story inside, waiting to be told. I can’t tell your stories, and you can’t tell mine. Do whatever works for you, to tell your stories. And if you figure out a new way of doing things that works well for you, let me know. I always enjoy hearing of creative solutions to creative problems.
Finally, I want to thank you all for joining me this Plotober. The series was great fun to write, so I’m definitely looking forward to talking more with you all about the storytelling craft as we return to regular (?) programming here on Strike A Spark.
To all of you who are working on a story, I wish you the best. You can do it! I’m rooting for you!