Telling stories is one of the most important things we do in our lives. We tell stories to sell products and make money, we tell stories for entertainment, and we even tell stories to help us teach difficult concepts and express abstract thoughts. Even those of us who don’t choose to be writers have to be storytellers—but as artists who make stories our livelihoods, we ought to be the best at it.
As I look forward to NaNoWriMo in a few months, I already have a few ideas buzzing around in my brain. One of the ones that has been haunting me for months is a story about a girl who is raised on a bad side of town, but escapes it and thrives in her college years, only to find herself getting back into the wrong crowd as she heads into her mid-twenties. I love the idea of this story, and I know I can write a full novel about it—but I’m struggling to develop the plot underneath all the themes I want to incorporate. The concepts of gun violence, racial issues, and social classes are begging for me to write about them
—but without a story, I can’t share my views effectively.
There are a lot of things I’m good at as a writer. All of my pieces make the reader care about what I have to say, and I’ve been complimented on my organizational skills in writing. I don’t need to work on transitional words or P.O.V. All of these things come naturally to me.
But still, despite being a professional writer, there are a lot of aspects of storytelling that I struggle with, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
For one, I am terrible at focusing my pieces on one certain concept. “Concise” is never a word used to describe my writing—but a good story, whether it is a news story or a fiction novel, hones in on a single concept, and only shares information relevant to that theme. As I work on my novel this November, I am going to force myself to be concise, while still requiring myself to reach a certain word count. While I may allow myself to explore several themes, focusing on only one underlying tale is going to inevitably ensure that my story is content-driven and endlessly riveting.
Additionally, I want to really dive in to each and every detail of my story. I want to know and understand all the nuances of my characters, and I want them to matter just as much as my overall themes do. While character webs and brainstorming can take place long before November 1, this is something that I’m going to have to be constantly conscious of while I’m writing—it’s just not going to come as naturally as I would like.
Something we all, as writers, have to accept is that we are not ever going to perfect our craft.
We may have immaculate control of grammar and spelling, and we may know every literary law known to the English language—but none of us will ever be able to tell a perfect story right from the start. We’re always going to have rough first drafts and phases of revision. That’s part of the profession—and, for a lot of us, it’s part of the fun.
My plan for November is not to come out a published author, but to finish the month with tens of thousands of words of me learning to be a better writer. For this reason, my focus is on crafting a story and honing in on all the aspects of good storytelling, especially the ones I’ve been struggling with. With practice, I know I can improve—I just have to discipline myself enough to do it.
How can you work to improve your writing & storytelling? Share in the comments!