by Will Viharo
There are as many stories as people in the world. What connects them is the common human experience, which can give any single tale, whether fictional or true, mass appeal. What makes any story unique, no matter how old or familiar, is the individual perspective conveyed in a distinctive voice.
Authors who wish to reach as wide an audience as possible need to master the fine art of storytelling by bridging the personal with the universal.
There’s no single way to accomplish that. That fact only increases your chances of producing a classic novel, or even a bestseller, and maybe both.
Beware of any article that begins with “How To…” when it comes to researching a career in the Arts, which is such a subjective field in many ways. But don’t entirely ignore them, either. The learning process never ends for the truly dedicated writer. My best advice: always remains an open-minded yet discerning student.
Writing courses can at best teach aspiring authors the basics of grammar, standard sentence construction, the foundation for building a credible plot, narrative pacing, etc. – most of which you can learn by reading the classic literary manual The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White.
Of course, nothing beats the classroom (virtual or otherwise) for social interaction, instant feedback, and a formal education to fall back on when times get rough, creatively or financially, which, unless you’re extremely lucky, is inevitable.
Marketing your work is a whole other story, so to speak, and equally essential to your eventual success in this wide-open but increasingly crowded field. But first you need something to sell.
Talent can’t be taught, but technique can be honed. It takes more than innate ability to get ahead; it also requires some simple skills. Only after you’ve mastered them can you begin to tweak them to suit your own creative agenda.
The blank page can be extremely daunting for even the most seasoned professional writer. After you’ve learned all you can about the rules of language itself, how does one go about filling just one page, much less dozens or hundreds, with words conveying a story or information a reader will feel compelled to read?
Writing is ultimately a solitary journey of self-discovery. But here are a few general tips, based on my own experiences, and conversations with my peers:
Make Your Story Resonate with Realism, Even If It’s Fantasy
Create characters and experiences that are somehow relatable to the common person, regardless of their backgrounds, by imbuing them with emotions, desires, problems and challenges that most humans face, one way or another, at some point in their own lives. This will draw in and hold your target audience’s attention regardless of the context.
Let Your Characters Tell Their Own Stories
When you’re stuck, write your characters into a corner, and then let them write themselves out. If you’ve successfully fleshed out their motivations in your own mind, this shouldn’t be quite as difficult as it sounds.
Plan Your Trip In Advance, But Keep Your Itinerary Open
Depending on the genre, a rough outline should be considered more of a wayward, self-guided tour than a strict roadmap leading to a pre-determined destination. Surprise yourself sometimes by going “off script,” i.e. improvising a bit to see where the plot might go if you didn’t go “by the book.” This can often lead to something even more original and exciting than you planned, and there’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than a story that might be familiar in general, but quite unique in the specifics. Keep yourself in suspense as the storyteller, and your own sense of curiosity may be pleasantly contagious to your audience.
Always Be Yourself, Even If You’re Not Writing About Yourself
There’s nobody in the world that looks, feels, sounds or thinks just like you do. The amount of competition for a reader’s attention is only going to increase as the DIY digital marketplace expands. The only way to stand out and get noticed is to tell your story through the eyes and in the voices of characters no one but you could’ve possibly created, because they spring from your own special life experiences, which in turn inform your world view as a writer, even if it’s non-fiction, like a memoir or a subjective take on a historical event.
Even if your material requires objectivity, your style and method of communication can determine just how readable your book is for an audience already inundated with words competing for their attention, across the media spectrum.
It’s not just the story you’re telling that’s important. It’s the way you tell it that will make or break its accessibility and popularity with total strangers.
What are some of your ideas for telling a good story, based on your own history as a writer, or a reader?
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