Storytelling and Storytellers

My previous post about goals (my 100th post, by the way) made me consider my goals and how they pertain to my work-in-progress.

I haven’t been adding many new pages to the novel. I realized Chip my hero believed the accounts of the world coming to an end, yet when he came home from work to find his mother gone, he didn’t think anything of it, just assumed she finally went back to her place. I’ve been spending the past few days reworking the first chapters so that he stops believing the accounts long enough to make his blasé attitude believable.

I could have waited until I finished the first draft to do the rewrite, but I need a solid foundation on which to build my story, or I lose my focus. As I get deeper into the story, I will be making other changes, but for the moment I am satisfied that Chip, at least, no longer believes the world is ending. Now when readers get to the place where Chip comes home to find his mother gone, they won’t roll their eyes at his stupidity, or worse: slam the book on my stupidity.

Although we constantly change our minds or act on a whim, we cannot allow our characters the same leeway. Everything they do must be motivated, or else the story falls apart. Because I have a silly premise, I have to be particularly vigilant.

Yesterday I started to read a book where the main character got fired first thing. Besides that beginning being as much of a cliché as a dream or a weather report, it wasn’t believable. Well, the firing was believable, perhaps even the boss suggesting that the woman find herself a rich husband by attending funerals was believable. What wasn’t believable was the fired woman saying no way and then, for no apparent reason, deciding to do it. It wouldn’t have taken much to motivate her; looking for a job and not finding one would have done it for me. But the author, who should have known better, had her acting on a whim. That’s when he lost me, which was okay since it meant I didn’t have to waste any more time plowing through his self-conscious prose.

Many writers today, especially new writers trying to get published, think they don’t have to follow the rules of storytelling. Perhaps not. In the end, who am I to say? All I know is that to keep from jerking their readers out of the reality they are creating, writers must make sure their plots are interesting, characters real, actions motivated.

Even more than being a good writer, I want to be a good storyteller. If I follow those simple rules, maybe someday I will achieve my goal.

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