Friday, June 24, 2011

Your Story Dictates the Strategy You Take

It is always interesting listening to writers talk about the right and wrong way to write a story. Topics range from the use of first person and third person, amount of dialogue, use of adjectives and adverbs, use of marquee names and so forth. These conversations always end up being a point of discussion when editors and agents meet with these authors. We hear things such as "Now, I'm using first person so will that be something that will cause editors to say no?" Ugh! Groan!

When we write a story (or for that matter any type of document) we do not sit down and say "I think I am going to write a first person story" first. We build the story from the foundational elements of a story - character, plot, setting and theme. Once we have an idea of what we want to accomplish in the story, then, and only then do we decide what the best mode of communication and structure will be. What is the best approach to take to make an effective story just shine.

I think too often, writers are obsessed with believing there is only one right and wrong way of doing things. This is far from the truth. There are certainly better ways and yes, you can have a great premise to a story but the execution of it by picking the wrong mode of communication will screw it up.

With that said, I do have to add something else. The correct mode of communcation for that story may not be your favorite or the one you are the most comfortable with. I hear a lot of writers say they prefer one method over another, but this doesn't mean it is right for the story. In fact, too often, this is really a huge reason for my passing on a project. The rejection reads something like, "While the premise is great the story ends up not being as strong as I had hoped. The voice of the story just does match with the storyline."

So, the next time you read your story and think something isn't quite right, don't immediately chance the plot. It might be time to consider HOW you are telling the story.



  1. Ah, common sense! I like it!

  2. Great post. I've recently completed a story in first person and am now going back and changing it to third. It just reads better and gives me the opportunity to step away from my characters so as to notice the flaws.

  3. It's difficult making those major type of changes once the story has legs. I'll look for every quick fix before admitting an overhaul is necessary.

  4. I did the opposite from Laila with the current manuscript: switched it to first person after starting it in third. Though I don't usually like writing in first, I felt it would serve the story better. I have two major characters throughout the whole thing and the thoughts and motivations of the one are supposed to be somewhat opaque to the POV character, and it was easier/more natural to ponder that in first than in even very limited third. You just have to do what you have to do for the story.