Wow, has it really been that long since my last blog post? Sorry about that. When I went to the doctor for my annual checkup, they thought an extended poking and prodding would be great fun this year. It’s been a bit distracting. Still, even though they aren’t quite done with me yet, that’s no reason to miss deadlines, so let’s get back to it.
In his “Redline your Writing” panel at the 2011 Write-Brained Network Writing Workshop, David L. Robbins told us there are two parts of storytelling: story and telling. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Of course, there’s more to it than that. So today we’re going to concentrate on what David taught us about story.
If you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve had the importance of a strong opening scene drilled into you. That’s what I thought David was going for when he told all of us at the workshop to imagine a scene describing a bunch of firetrucks tearing down the street, lights and sirens going, cars pulling off to the side to let them pass, people on the sidewalk craning their necks to watch and wondering out loud what’s going on. “Yeah, good strong opening,” I thought. “Starting in medias res, making the reader wonder what’s going to happen next.”
But then David said, “Now imagine that as one of the firetrucks slows a bit to round the corner, one of the firefighters, who is a friend of yours, spots you in the crowd and yells to you, ‘We’re going to your house!'”
If you’re as paranoid about your house burning down as I am, that scene just got eminently more interesting. As curious and concerned as any of us are when we see emergency vehicles racing down the road, it matters a whole lot more when it’s our house that’s on fire. David repeated that mantra to us throughout the workshop: the firetrucks have to be going to YOUR house.
As we learned in my last post, the POV character represents the reader and creates an emotional bond to the story. Needing the firetrucks to go to your house is why a strong POV is important. As David explained, every action in a story must be taken by or affect a character we care about. Which is why you’re never wasting time in a book by making readers care about a character — and then beat the crap out of the character, because then you’re beating up the reader, and the reader will care about that.
At the same time, David cautioned against creating complications for a character the reader doesn’t care about yet. That goes for villians, too. The reader has to hate the villian first for the complications to matter.
A writing book I read recently put it this way: people read to worry. They might pick up a book to escape from life for a while or to be entertained, but they keep reading because they worry. They worry about the characters, about whether they’ll get what they want, about whether everything will work out okay in the end. But how can we worry about people we don’t care about?
And how can we help but worry — and keep turning pages to make sure everything’s going to be alright — when we do?
Which takes us into the second part of storytelling: how you tell the story. I’ll let you know what David said about that in my next post.