Monday, November 15, 2010

Style Must Match The Story

I often receive a lot of stories with a great premise, and yet, when I read the actual story, everything completely falls apart. It isn't about the plotline or the lack of character development; it all stems from the style of storytelling not matching the story.

Let me start with YA because I think this matches what I am stressing best.

When I open up a YA, I can predict that 9 times out of 10, the story will be written in first person. What appears to be the case, is that many writers seem to believe that YA always equals first person. This is far from the truth. Sure, there have been some great YA's in first person but it doesn't mean your story works best in 1st person.

If the goal of your story requires a greater intimacy with the characters, then using 1st person might be the best solution. If, however, the story is more plot driven, you might find that 1st person actually limits you and could even detract from the storytelling.

Stylistic choices may also include journal format, switching back and forth in chapters with your character's POV, flashbacks, letter format, introspection and so forth.

Is there a right choice? In this case, the answer is YES! There is only one right voice and style for your story, and it may not be the one you are using right now. No, this style is not dictated by the genre, it is dictated by the story you have created. You may find that your story requires a stylistic change that you aren't comfortable with. Tough. Simply adding another style will not necessarily yield a story that will be successful in the end.

Take some time to study the voice and tone of the story. Study the plot line. Study the goal for the story. The answers to these questions will dictate the correct style.


  1. Thank you for this post. I've considered changing my third close POV to first because most YA's these days ARE in first--first present especially, which is limiting. My gut says third is the correct POV for my YA plot driven story. You solidified my reasoning.

  2. Totally understand the point, as a whole, of this post! But (perhaps) offering up a reason why 9 out of 10 YA books are written in first person, and why—maybe—it actually *is* a trait of the genre.

    The teenage years are, necessarily, a cognitively egocentric time—a time when kids are desperately trying to find where and how they fit, their place in the world, and what that place is in respect to their peers’ place…it is a time for the big “I.” Add in the fact that these teens often wish they could be (insert famous person or more popular person here) someone else. If, as writers, we keep this life-stage in mind, are we not then writing directly to our audience, the very audience who wants to be that person who kisses the gorgeous guy, who gets one over on the popular girl, who comes through it all “okay”? (Or who is clever enough to survive dystopian “games” that, though one would NEVER want to be a real part of, gives enough of a thrilling adventure out of the real world, for a few hundred pages?) What better way to let the kids fully insert themselves into the story than with letting them read themselves into the “I”?

    Of course, as you stated, there are certainly times when third person works more effectively, and as we write we should be open to thinking out of the box, (and CERTAINLY make sure it works!) but might teenagers’ identifying with the “I” be one reason that first person is often more innate to the YA story?