Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Telling Stories

Ever been talking with a friend and they say something like: "You'll never believe what happened to me the other day. It was the funniest thing." Usually this is followed by an anecdote about being unable to find the car keys ("In the freezer! Would you believe it?") or the dog being stupid ("He turned around so fast he hit his head on the wall! Would you believe it?") or something else that somehow doesn't strike you as being funny at all.

The problem is not that your friend is boring. (Or easily amused.) The problem is this: telling stories takes practice.

There are many things to learn about the craft of writing. One of the most important is how to tell a story. This goes beyond knowing that it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It is more than understanding that the action has to rise and fall and slowly build to a climax. It does involve knowing how to make your characters compelling. And it will certainly require developing interest in the situation in which those characters find themselves.

Learning all of these separate skills is important, but the only way to really learn how to tell a story is to do it.

"But I write all the time," you say.

That's fantastic. But how many stories do you actually finish? Because learning how to tell a story means starting at the beginning and following through to the end.

Even when the middle sucks.
Even when the ending blows.
Even when every word is like pulling teeth.
Start at the beginning, slog through the middle and finish the damn thing.

Because telling a story takes practice.

So go and practice.
Every day.


Jalisa said...

Amen. On practicing telling stories (which I have admittedly fallen to the wayside of) and on friends who tell stories that aren't quite as funny as they think they are since they typically tell you the end of what happened and expect you to laugh. :)

A.G. Carpenter said...

Heh. I'm only a good story-teller when I can edit my way through several versions. :)