Writing: First Steps Toward Skillful Storytelling
Draw a long cool breath, thread your fingers and stretch your hands until the knuckles loosen with a soft crack. Flipping the stylus from its holster on your belt, you spin it with a flourish and chant the words of illumination. Sparks spin around you in a spectral tornado, your stomach tightens and a crack rings through the air. A flare of hard white radiance blots out your familiar surroundings. Blackness replaces light, stars and nebulae seem to whirl around you—then they are gone.
Heart pounding, you shake your head, blinking rapidly to clear the spots from your vision. You feel your knees pressing into soft grassy soil. A gentle wind filters through your hair, and sharp scents of pine and loamy soil fill your nostrils. Boughs creak overhead, accompanied by the sound rustling leaves and chirping birds.
The last of fuzziness in your vision fades and you swallow, tasting the sugary hint of anticipation. You appear to be in a wilderness clearing at the crest of a hill. Above is a bright azure sky threaded with tufts of cirrus. Enormous oaks rise around you like dark sentinels their huge limbs appearing to embrace the heavens.
Scanning the area, you find you are not alone. Several other people, each with a stylus in their hand and a tablet in their lap, sit in neat rows facing a large tree stump nearby. They all stiffen and grow more alert as a man steps forward and sits a few paces from the first line of attendees.
The stranger is a heavy set with nut-brown hair and dressed in a dark blue jacket and jeans. He is fresh faced and blue eyed, with a bent nose and an off-center smile. He nods to every one, gaze scanning the assemblage.
Your attention is briefly drawn from the man to a sound behind you. A few paces away are more people, only they are facing in the opposite direction. These too have the stylus and tablet, their attention is turned toward another man sitting on a tree stump who could be the mirror image of the speaker in *your* seminar. Wondering what that’s about, you turn your attention back to the subject at hand.
You might have enjoyed the long introduction, simply appreciating the flow of words and the pictures that they paint. On the other hand, you might have been wondering what it all had to do with learning the craft of writing. That is what writers do; they treasure the elegance of language, but at the same time look for meaning and depth. Men and women write for many reasons, whether it is for cathartic purposes, a stimulating intellectual exercise, or out of some primal need—it is all the urge to create story.
However, there is telling a story—and there is telling a story well.
Rereading the introduction, what do you know about the techniques used to create it? What about the approaches used in the article you’re reading? Are you aware of such things like physical registers and point-of-view? Do you know about pacing, indirection, and transitions in narrative? These are all questions of mechanics in writing and the nuts and bolts used to create story. These same basic building blocks are what keeps many people from becoming authors.
Do you want to be in print—to be published? It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or you haven’t yet completed school. The mechanics of professional fiction are simply not taught in the typical college or university class. You can learn about journalistic writing, or how to analyze literature—but that knowledge can only help you so much. You need a special kind of education, one that can only be found in specialized seminars, other writers, and HERE.
Welcome to the Beginning Writing Craft Series. These articles are one half of a twenty-four article introductory writing program. The twelve installments of The Beginning Writing Craft concentrate on the mechanics of narrative and story. The remaining twelve of The Beginning Writer focus on the industry, psychology, and lifestyle of writing. Each article stands on its own, but they all work together to convey a larger picture. Aspiring authors are encouraged to read from both tracks as valuable information can be found in both.
Here, our focus is the writing mechanics—the engine of good story telling. Right now, we’re not worried about publishing, when or how to write, we’re focused on making the words you commit to the page shine. That means knowing your audience, knowing your story, and evoking that story in the mind of your reader. Note, I didn’t say ‘tell’—we’re not about telling stories here, this is about conjuring imagery. ‘Show not tell’ is the basic lesson that all writers need to learn, and we’ll guide you toward that paradigm stepwise in the coming articles.
The first article in our series will be about identifying a story. How do you know you have a workable idea before you waste a lot of writing time on it? The second installment deals with plot. How to organize your story to keep your reader turning the pages. Our third piece deals with narrative and methods uses to relate your story. Forth is dealing with viewpoint, and using it to grab your reader and make them see and feel the world you have created. The fifth section deals with exposition and how it differs from narrative. This article gets into the details of the ‘show don’t tell’ model of writing. Installment six introduces dialogue, and the techniques of giving voices to your characters. Section seven is about characterization and using details to make characters vivid. Installments eight through ten deal with fine art of description and how to use active voice, mood, and tone to make settings, people, and situations memorable. The closing piece will handle ‘the big picture’, and how to pair down and refine a story to make it flow.
Together, these twelve pieces along with the Beginning Writer articles should give you enough information to either get started or get back on track when it comes to your writing. Once you’re done and you’re feeling confident, there’s intermediate and advanced materials to advance your execution, style, and technique.
We hope you find use in the material following.
Best wishes to you and creative writing.