Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Storytelling Is Not Just Telling A Story

CC0 Public Domain image by MorganRen via Pixabay

Storytelling Versus Telling A Story

Recently I got this lovely email from someone who had read a few of my books (and left glowing reviews online, which is the way to make any author smile!):
"I have to ask--have you ever gotten or tried to get your books picked up by regular publishers. I'm not a pro but I've read enough stories to know good from...well, not so good. Yours, in my humble opinion, are a cut above what I have read recently...It just seems to me that many are just trying to tell a story, and there's more to story telling than just telling the story, if you get what I'm trying to say. You seem to have that knack. Anyway, I hope you have a terrific response to your book. I loved it."
The email writer said they weren't a pro, yet they picked up on something that eludes many writers. An inexperienced writer thinks that what a story is about on the surface is what the story is about. Then they go off and write something one dimensional. It may be okay, but it won't resonate. A good example is my novella Harvest Festival. I'll assume you've not read it so I won't give away spoilers - let's pretend the danger is a night-time attack of the Wombles. So a beginner writes an exciting tale about an attack of the Wombles, and thinks the job is done. But actually my book isn't about that. It's about rediscovering how much you love and respect those close to you. The Wombles could be replaced with Zebedees or Trumptons or rabid Ivor the Engines and it wouldn't matter. But taking away the central theme of rediscovering love would gut the story and leave it hollow. That's what it is really about, the rest is set dressing. You'd be surprised how many first-time authors don't realise that. Every story needs more than one level to it. The one on top has to be entertaining, and the one underneath has to have depth and some universality.

Action Horror Thriller

My correspondent also wrote (in their review of Turner):
"It reminded me of The Thing where the characters are trapped in the middle of the Arctic in a small building trying to fight off an alien. It's one of my favorite movies for that very reason. Turner does the same thing."
I love The Thing too. I've seen it loads of times, including once at a cinema, and I always champion Who Goes There?, the novella it was based on. It's another good example of depth: on the surface a scary tale of something totally alien taking over our bodies cell by cell; but beneath that are universal questions to do with identity, and how you can know who to trust, and appearances being deceiving. Those ideas really get under your skin (just like The Thing itself).

As an aside, I didn't actually count The Thing as one of my influences - see here for a full list of the ones that I thought of. When I wrote Turner it was because I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere with my literary work, so I thought "Why not just write the kind of book I like to read: action, survival, horror, and a setting where I would try and imagine what I would do in that situation?" Hence staying for a week on an island with no electricity, and writing Turner. Harvest Festival (which now has a brilliant audiobook version available) was an attempt to write something else in the Turner vein, just shorter.

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