Titles lack nuance. But they work, if you're reading this now. :)
I'm using my website banner, because it speaks to the topic at hand.
Many writers become so in love with their written words that they forget that a story isn't made from them. No more than it's made from the spoken words you use or from images on the screen. It's the imagination behind these words, something that exists in a snapping of neurons inside our heads, that creates story.
This was brought into full relief to me a few months ago when award-winning producer Beth Spitalny asked what I had in mind for the live-action trailer we would be making for my Mindjack series. I've never written a screenplay before, even a short one, but I pitched my idea to her anyway. It boiled down the essence of the story, the basic conflict of the characters told in a moving image format, with a beginning, middle, and end, just as any story should have. The final script that Beth wrote was very close to the images that were playing in my mind. It was a direct transference from one media to another, going through two brains in the process, but keeping the story intact. (I can't wait to see how it looks on the screen!)
Story isn't just plot. It isn't just images one after the other. It lives in the feelings it evokes. The laughter and tears that it causes. The brain-tingling possibilities it conjures. This is what readers respond to.
This is all very romantic, but how does one go about becoming a storyteller, not (just) a writer?
I tend to think of writers and story as being like the Blind Men and the Elephant: viewed one way, we can use structure to understand story; viewed another, we see the emotional journey of a character compelling the story forward; yet another, we see the deeper lessons that a story is embedding in the readers' minds.
All of this work is right and good (and necessary) to becoming a good storyteller. But first we have to pay more than lip service to the fact that story is important. As writers, it is too easy to fall in love with a character or a world and forget that delivering a satisfying story to readers is what is most important.
Right now I'm working on the second draft of my current WiP, Free Souls. This is my most heavily plotted novel to date, because I have to make sure I get the story right. Getting the story right is crucial in every novel, but a wee more complicated (and in some ways, more important) in the last novel in a series. It's like getting the ending right in a regular book. Readers will forgive a lot of things, but not an ending that leaves them dissatisfied. So I wrote and re-wrote the chapter-by-chapter outline for this novel a couple times, making sure the story would hold together, before I ever wrote a single scene. When I finally wrote the first draft, things shifted around and I made some new discoveries, but for the most part, the story held together.
Only during the second draft am I worrying about things like complete sentences and pretty metaphors and tight action sequences and witty dialogue. I'm diving deeper into setting and the emotional arcs of secondary characters. Those are things that a writer does, before she lets that work go out into the wild. Because she takes pride in her work and because it's just not readable without it!
But the story is already, essentially, there.
I'm not saying you have to plot a novel to make the story work (although I do think it helps, even if you're a natural storyteller). Your process may involve discovering your story by pantsing your way through it. I make no judgments there. I do think that you should focus on story first, however you get there, and words second, in order to make your story the best that it can be.
How do you make yourself a better storyteller?