Fall In Love With Your Story

I was awakened today by my thoughts on storytelling and the words that combine to make for a compelling tale. So, I thought I’d share my perspective with you about the art of writing as it pertains to prose versus the telling of a story.

Before I begin writing a new story I always try to remind myself of the following:

[Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with your story.]

Don’t get me wrong, just like most people I like pretty looking words on the page; words that captivate, dazzle and color the extraordinary landscape. There is a skill to artfully marrying flowery words with a compelling storyline. I believe that most writers strive to master this aspect of the medium. And, when they’re able to pull it off, when a writer executes their prose properly, and the words are aligned just right on the page, there is something about it that transcends art. It’s amazing when that happens. It’s like magic. That being said, I just don’t believe that the style of your words should be the focus when creating a story.

Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with your story.

In this regard, I guess I consider myself to be more of a storyteller than a wordsmith. It probably goes back to my roots in journalism. When I began my career in the television and radio news business it wasn’t about the style of your writing as a reporter. It was about communicating a news story as a public servant in the best way possible to the viewing or listening public. It needed to fit a certain mold and be easily understood and succinctly communicated. But the principle foundation of this type of writing was to be the best storyteller that you could be in order to fulfill your objective. That meant telling a story without regard for your prose.

I took this ‘story-based’ mindset into the entertainment business and applied it to my writing of screenplays and stage plays. When I’m writing a script or a play I don’t think about how beautiful my writing is. I try my best to serve the story. That means that I am more interested in serving the characters, the plot, the theme and the action. Prose, or my style of writing, is never on my mind when I’m writing a script. And, I don’t think that it ever should be if you want to do it the right way. Now, I know that the script medium is quite a different medium than writing a book, but I still think that the primary focus should be on the telling of the story.

Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with your story.

So when people compliment me on my prose it isn’t nearly as important to me as what they think about the story that I’ve created. I feel the exact same way when I’m reading another writer’s story. To me it’s about the story, not about how pretty their words are on the page. So, often times I find that the criticism of a writer’s prose as superficial and irrelevant analysis of a story. I also find that this form of criticism can be ignorant of the craft of writing. Most writers know that writing is an extremely difficult craft to master. And, trying to tell a coherent story which holds the reader’s attention for a few hundred pages with interesting characters in an engrossing plot and setting is no easy task. The way I see it is; if a writer has kept you intrigued enough to keep turning the page, then I think they’ve done their job, don’t you?

Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with your story.

To me prose can be a useful tool to telling a story. But in my humble opinion I don’t think it should be something that you hang your hat on. Think about it, how many times when you’ve finished reading a book did you think about how wonderful the prose was? Maybe once or twice I’m sure you’ve said, “That was beautifully written.” Yet, you probably weren’t just thinking about how pretty the words were. You were most likely thinking about how beautifully written the story was; that you got lost in the characters, the plot and the imaginary world. I remember my reaction after reading The Great Gatbsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which had some brilliant prose. However, it wasn’t Fitzgerald’s words that made me fall in love with the story. It was the story that captivated me from page one. I could have cared less about how pretty the words were. I just wanted to know if Gatsby was going to be reunited with Daisy, his long lost love.

Now, I’ve also at times been mystified by overly colorful prose which distracted me from the story so much that I couldn’t continue reading. And that leads me back to the point of this blog: Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with your story. In these instances I’ve often thought, “Man, if the writer focused as much on the story as they did on their prose then this would be a terrific read.” That was my reaction as a reader before I became a published novelist. My feelings remain exactly the same now that I’m a published author. So, I guess you could say that my approach to writing was influenced by my experiences as a reader. Like I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, sure pretty words on the page are stylish, nice and colorful, but I’ve always just wanted to be entertained, riveted by the story unfolding on the page.

Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with your story.

I guess in the end, you could say that I don’t prefer style over substance. However, if you’re able to capably execute and marry both (style & substance) then you’ve done what many others have aspired to achieve. You’ve told a beautiful story with alluring words on the page. You should be applauded and a monument should be built and erected in your honor. Okay, I was kidding with that last comment. All I hope for you (if you’re a writer) is that you dazzle with your story, not with your words. For I believe that if your focus is on the telling of the story, and not the style of your words, then you’ve done your job as a storyteller and served your story and the reading audience to the best of your ability. And isn’t that the point at the end of the day? :)

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