Monday, July 22, 2013

Your Story Dictates The Style

When I teach writing composition courses (which I still do from time to time), I always find myself having a conversation with a student about topic selection and their structure/style they plan on using. Students will come to me frustrated saying they want to write a [insert cause and effect, compare and contrast...etc] paper but really don't have a topic. The problem here is the student really has it all backward. You don't pick the structure you want to use, you start with the topic. It is the topic that dictates the structure.

This is all about putting a round peg in a square hole.

The same goes for story writing. I really started thinking about it this weekend as I was reading a stack of submissions at Starbucks. Obviously there was something about the premise of the story from the author's initial pitch that made me want to read more, but as I read the partial, it really felt like something wasn't right. For many of the stories this weekend (and actually with many submissions in general) is that the style the author chose to present his or her story wasn't right for the project.

One of the places where I see this a lot is the use of 1st person. I honestly have to say that writing in 1st person is tough and very few people can pull it off successfully. Getting that world building and other points of view across to the reader is tough when only one person is talking. But I do think the bigger issue is the fact that using this narrative structure just doesn't fit with every story out there.

I do believe that many authors read another author's book and love what they did with it. It might have been the plot device, it might have been the structure, who knows. The point is they loved it and now they go home and begin to force that structure upon a story that just doesn't want to use it.

Writing is really an intuitive activity. What you do with your stories, the things your characters say and do, all depend on a gut instinct. It just feels right when you write it. I do recommend that if you find yourself fighting with your latest work in progress, stop and think about what you are doing. What does your gut tell you? My bet is you are forcing something that doesn't fit with the situation.

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