Good storytelling is about having at least a somewhat conscious relationship to our ideal reader. It is about understanding the most effective order of events. Hold the story loosely, and be willing to write and rewrite. We want to tell the story in the most compelling way possible.
The process of storytelling is akin to a Polaroid coming into focus, or an alien spacecraft moving toward planet Earth — as it approaches, it sees the Earth in greater and greater detail. We began with an idea, then we imagined the world, wrote an outline, and finally bashed out a first draft. Now that we have “channeled” that initial story, we step back and become curious about the most effective way to tell it.
Let us imagine for a moment that we are the typical ruthless, yet openhearted reader. Our reader comes to the book with expectations. He wants to be taken on a journey, to be under the spell of the storyteller. In fact, our reader wishes to be seduced.
The accomplished storyteller approaches story as if it were a seduction. He never forces his will. He is sensitive to his reader, while at the same time never losing focus, always moving toward his objective.
How is this accomplished? By having a grounding in basic technique, while staying open to our Source, to that primal impulse that spoke to us in the first place.
Basic technique, as far as I’m concerned, really just means maintaining an ongoing curiosity about structure, i.e., tracking the “want” through the plot points. As we grow as writers, we discover that our story is never entirely what we thought it would be. By being open to the structure questions, we can develop over time. We can build an abiding relationship to the infinite complexities of our human condition. By being open, we can become surprised at the unpredictability of human behavior. These discoveries can be frightening and thrilling all at once. Story structure is not a formula. Story structure can hold all of the complexities of the human condition.
It is our job as writers to continue to be curious about our own humanity. In moments of crisis or doubt, ask yourself, “Where does this experience exist for my characters?” Don’t allow yourself to become swallowed up by guilt, fear, or neurosis. Hold your stories loosely enough that your character’s choices can surprise you. When we do this, we are often led to deep truths we didn’t even know we were seeking.
Learn more about marrying the wildness of your imagination to the rigor of structure in The 90-Day Novel, or The 90-Day Memoir.