With the fiction marathon just around the corner, I thought I’d focus on the art of storytelling.
Nothing is New
Storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. Well, at least since humans felt secure enough to be able to sit down and listen. Initially, of course, stories would have been told orally with lots of expressions and perhaps a certain amount of performance thrown in.
Communities would gather to listen to these tales, with snippets of make believe woven together with cultural truths. It was a form of entertainment, but also a way for people to make sense of their lives.
Stories are based on values passed down by older generations to shape the foundation of the community. Storytelling is used as a bridge for knowledge and understanding allowing the values of “self” and “community” to connect and be learned as a whole…Wikipedia
The stories would have been passed through generations and naturally added to. One such tale that most of us know would have been that of King Arthur. With the advent of writing, these stories would have taken form and travelled further a field.
I mention King Arthur as when I was young it was one of my favourite tales. It incorporated so many things — magic, romance, betrayal, hope, heroes. Indeed, I liked it so much I would suggest to new boyfriends that they read it, and subtly add, if they wanted a quick route to impress me, they should not waste any time finishing the task.
Storytelling is Impressive
I am always impressed by great storytelling, more so than the correct use of grammar or flowery adjectives. These things may also be important, but I believe being able to spin a good yarn is far more worthy than understanding the use of semicolons and such like.
I’m often a soft editor, as I get easily swayed by the story and ignore some of the writing rules.
I will skim over punctuation or grammar inconsistencies if the writer is a great storyteller. But, if someone has a grammatically and structurally perfect narrative but does not possess the skill to entertain me from the start, I’ll close the page and move on.
Good storytelling is a talent, an art even, and can not be faked. It would be far easier for a storyteller to learn the correct use of punctuation, grammar etc than it would be for someone who possesses such writing skills to suddenly become a great teller of tales.
That said, there are things that we can all try and incorporate within our writing to entice the reader to engage.
Writing an Engaging Story
From my perspective, some of the following will make your story stand out and be remembered.
- Individual dialogue that flows. So perhaps one of your characters stutters or has an accent. (Don’t overdo it, though.) In this story, I included a catchphrase for my anti-hero. Quite a spirited thing to do!
- Be brave in your writing. Create vivid scenes. Real characters with flaws and secrets. Step into the shoes of your characters.
- Pull the reader in from the outset. Your first line is most important.
- Inject a little satire or humour. This can work even in the darkest tales.
- Surprise the reader with a twist or a turn that we didn’t expect.
- Have a definite plot but don’t get too complicated. Often adding one of your own real life experiences can help the story stand out because you will make the scene come alive.
- If you are creating a new world, let us know about the rules, don’t keep this to yourself. The reader needs to buy into your idea. Sell it to them.
Tip: Own Voice – Write without fear of getting things wrong. It is only by doing this that you can hope to develop your own individual writing voice. Take a look at stories by Cousin Pons. He has a unique voice which makes his work unforgettable.
Learning as you go
Marie gives some great advice for new writers in this post.
One thing I would add is don’t let the technicalities of writing scare you. If you have a passion for story telling, get it out there. Or enter a competition like the Fiction Marathon. It is only by doing that we learn.
In 2018, I reached the final of the Smut Marathon competition. It was the forerunner of the Fiction Marathon but just for erotic fiction. I was new to fiction writing, so felt proud. One of the other contestants said to me, I painted pictures with my stories. I felt that was down to not over crowding them with one adjective following another and focusing very much on strong characters to tell the story for me.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.George Orwell
In 2020 I was a jury member of the same competition. In one of the earlier rounds I chose to award points to a story that had grammatical mistakes. I could see real potential in the writer’s storytelling and felt they could learn to sharpen up the structural constraints as the competition progressed. However, another jury member decided to publicly criticise my decision. I was mortified and very angry. I told them exactly what I thought of their pretentious snobbery. Before explaining that in my opinion in the early stages of the competition the story was more important than the odd punctuation error.
I will end this post with a quote from last year’s winner of the Fiction Marathon — who also happens to be one of my favourite storytellers —Marsha Adams.
My problem is I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I don’t have an elegant vocabulary, and I don’t craft exquisite phrases; I stitch plain words into simple sentences, but I try to weave those sentences into scintillating stories.Marsha Adams.