What makes good storytelling?
I was having a discussion on one of my favorite forums (shout out) with a fellow aspiring writer about what makes a writer a good storyteller. I decided to dedicate this post to the art from a reader’s aspect, rather from a writer’s.
Telling, not describing.
There are books out there where I cringe and trudge through acres of text describing scenery, or a characters clothing, or a dog. What inspires me to continue on is hopes that the author will dig the reader out of the describing hole and onto more entertaining plot lines. The problem I see is that the author ran out of interesting scenes and focuses on an object, just to get the words onto paper. This is what a rough draft is for (or three or four).
Instead of describing these nuances to the reader, tell them to me. The reader needs to have an imagination or the concept is depleted. If the author creates an evil antagonist and wants, no demands us to hate him for his evil deeds, the author has failed on giving the character a fat chance in ever changing his ways. I love villains for two reasons; I like to see and understand why it is he is evil, and I want to see how he changes throughout the course of the story. If the author wants us to hate him for his evilness, we will and the story has a plotted dead-end.
There is a master of the art (I humbly apologize for not remembering his name) who once said; If you present a gun in scene one, that gun better fire in scene two. This is wonderful advice because it is completely true. Readers do not want to read a four paragraph description of an ice cream truck if it never gets blown up. These little chunks of text need to be thrown into the pit because the reader is now bored and asking why. So, if your antagonist picks up a gun from a pawn shop, impatiently waiting for the legal time limit, he better walk out of that shop firing.
Too many adjectives.
There is such a thing as too many words. As I trudge through writing novels, in the back recesses of my cob-webbed mind, I worry about word count. Yes, worrying about such trivialities take away from the art itself, but it’s a sickness I can’t help. I’m sure there are many others that think about the same issue and, unfortunately for the reader, these extra adjectives come out clunky and thick.
As I said above, this is what rough drafts are for. Write, write, and write until you physically can’t anymore, then cut that baby until she bleeds. Most times I’m unsure and unaware myself that I’m using too many adjectives and adverbs. One helpful tip is to read the text out loud. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue it will have the same effect on paper.
In essence, I enjoy reading a novel that tells a wonderful story. I don’t chuck a hardback for not using commodious words, nor do I throw it out if it describes too much. There needs to be a gap between the author describing an object and the reader filling in the blanks. Writing is a crazy art, but you know you love it.