The Art of Dope Storytelling
You don’t have to be Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or any other premiere author to be a great storyteller. You don’t need an English degree or a background as a writer to tell a story. You don’t need to know how to use a coordinating conjunction correctly in a sentence — your editor does. Sure, it helps to know the mechanics of sentence structure, but a great idea is even grander. Mom said the best anecdotes are the ones we keep convincing ourselves not to share.
To be a sound storyteller, you have to tell the truth — or at least your characters should. Good storytelling starts with honesty because fictional characters live on longer than we ever will. Great stories never die. Phenomenal characters live off the page and inside of our hearts. The notion that extraordinary books can only be written by extraordinary writers is bologna. Storytelling is an art. Some writers are natural at it whereas others eventually catch on. The rest aspire to grab the attention of their readers. Even the worst writer in the world can have an excellent idea for a book, and with the right resources (and a damn good editor), anything is possible.
So, what makes a good storyteller? The best storytellers place you there at the scene. When a character is injured, so are you. If you hate the stench of cigarette smoke and the villain is smoking, you should feel a good gag coming on. The book you read (or write) should be a lens that the author is allowing you to look through. The details should be so consuming that the hairs stand up on your neck after learning that Grace inadvertently struck a cyclist in the crosswalk on her way to work last June, killing him. She was late getting back into town after dropping her son off at school before the crash happened. She’d been at it with her soon-to-be ex-husband earlier that morning about the divorce and wasn’t in the right headspace when suddenly, wham! It happened. Grace’s boss had originally suggested she take off, but she couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Between student loans, lawyer fees, co-parenting and helping her father battle cancer, money was already tight. She whimpered on a crowded, downtown sidewalk as paramedics attempted to resuscitate the biker. The front windshield of her Honda SUV was cracked with a smear of red still painted across the hood. She dropped to her knees and moaned when rescue workers resigned their efforts.
In less than two hundred words, you know that Grace is preoccupied with a bitter divorce, work, parenting, her father’s cancer and money troubles. There’s a lot going on in Grace’s world — even more now after the unfortunate accident; a man has passed away. It’s not the most genius script for a book, but Grace’s drama is compelling. What happens to her? Did she go to jail? Does her life spiral out of control as a result of her negligence? People want to know. So, they’re gonna find out. If you write a believable story, one that readers can find themselves a part of, they’ll show up, I guarantee.
The best advice I ever got about writing: don’t just tell us about a good story. Show us.