Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tell a story from YOUR heart!

I was just reading this morning a short story ONLY DAUGHTER writtenr by Sandra Cisneros yesterday afternoon and it got me thinking about something I am finding missing in far too many stories today and certinly an even larger number of submissions I read. Cisneros has voice. Simply put, when I read this story in 21 paragraphs I get the sense a real person with emotions and feelings wrote this.

Now, some would say it was because the topic was personal, or it was written in first person and that makes a world of difference. But frankly, I beg to differ. As I read these words about her early life in a family of 6 brothers, it becomes clear she is passionate about her topic and really begs to reader to sit down for a few moments and listen to her story.

And here is the problem. Writers today, or at least those submitting to me (which I would hope is not the only case) seem to be more concerned with a great plot or characters that stand out. They overly stress the great bedroom scene between the hero and the heroine. The highlight the dramatic, tension filled scene when we are unsure if the hero will save the heroine. What is missing though is the talk about the story itself.

I think of the stories that stand out in my head and find myself not focusing on those minute elements of the story but the big picture.

  • Frances Mayes Under the Tuscan Sun an immersion into the everyday country-life of Italians.
  • Bronwyn Scott Untamed Rogue, Scandalous Mistress Characters learning and loving in a world full of gender stereotypes
  • Diana Gabaldon Outlander a love story spanning the test of time (literally)
  • Michele Ann Young No Regrets characters understanding themselves and each other for who they are not what they are.
  • Susan Edwards White Series deep and passionate stories bringing to light authentic Native American ideals.

If you are a writer and can only tell me the highlights of your story, then you are likely missing the voice we are looking for in those truly great stories. If you pick stories because of the action, you are likely missing it.

I should note in closing that this is not something you can make up. Going back after the fact to highlight that deeper meaning is not always that successful. You have to begin with it. You have to feel that passion and voice even before you put pen to paper.

Do you have the passion in your story?


  1. Voice is something you can't manufacture on the fly. It's inherent to each author. I've been told my voice is strong and "old-school" and I'm happy with that. The drawback? There's no middle ground with my work. People either really love it or really hate it. Why? Because each piece makes them feel something, and in some cases, it's something they'd rather not dwell on.

    Yet, a good voice is unforgettable. I'm happy with that, too.

  2. I read Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez and Esmerelda Santiago before I started writing. For me, their lyrical way of story telling was magic.

  3. It can go the other way, too.

    For example, Margaret Atwood has almost too much voice. I find that it knocks me out of the story at times.

    (But I always go back in, because she's still a great storyteller!)

  4. I hope I have achieved that goal.

    Interesting post, thanks Scott.