Thursday, March 19, 2015


Storytelling. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all.  Of seeing what we say.  How do we define this lively darting about with words, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be Storytelling?" - Guy de Maupassant

Writing is a whole lot like making love…don't worry about the result, just focus on the process.

The story is a sequence of events that we use with words and imagery to reveal an adventure, an emotion, a history, a lesson, a character…a story.  As writers, Buck and I like to visualize our story as it happens…If we don't see it or feel it, neither will the reader.  After twenty-five screen/teleplays and thirteen novels, we have yet to write an outline. We prefer to create a situation and let the characters work it out. Our story will change, adapt, fluctuate and morph as we write. We rarely know how the story is going to turn out when we start and often we are as surprised at the ending as we hope the reader is.

 Don't listen to the words…listen to the story.

We feel the story itself is far more important than the writing of it. Storytelling is the oldest form of communication/education/healing in the history of mankind, dating back to the "Storyteller" (the shaman) around the campfires of prehistoric or primitive villages.  The stories painted or drawn on the walls of caves in petroglyphs, on animal skins and in the oral tradition, were man's first form of education, communication, entertainment and healing, far predating the written word.

Of all the animals, Man is the best at make-believe…the writer is never more alive than when he is creating a character.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel used the "oral tradition" for centuries in passing down the parables of the Creation and Noah's Flood.  It was not until King Solomon decreed that these stories be written down, that we had any records from which much of the "Old Testament" was taken. We, as writers, have a responsibility to carry on this tradition, yes, in fact, mankind has a need for "Storytellers" that is almost as great as his need for love. But, above all the story must  entertaining or nobody would listen.

I regard storytelling as an investigation of characters and the words they use to tell the story.

The story itself is why Dan Brown's novels "The DaVinci Code", "The Lost Symbol" "Angels & Demons" and "Deception Point" are so successful and popular, in my opinion. Brown was vilified, chastised and raked over the coals by so-called critics over his style, grammar and poor structuring, etc. The poor guy is laughing all the way to the bank…It's about STORY, hello!  Critics often think they know the way, but can't drive the car. If you start looking for proper style, edit errors or grammatical rules, you're not looking at the story. It's like watching a movie with nonstop sex or gratuitous violence…it's there to cover up the absence of story.

It is not the goal of fiction to be grammatically correct, but make the reader welcome and entertain them with a story.

Most people can readily recite passages from great stories, including from the Bible on command even if the writing suffers in translation or style. The images are there and stimulate our powers of visualization. Cecil B. DeMille helped out a great deal, but the story was still there.

Storytelling is seeing what you say.

Of course, action verbs, adjectives and judicious use of adverbs are important, but they're not going to help tell the  story if the story itself sucks.  With the plethora of commercial fiction novels on the market today, good storytelling is also the reason why some writers excel while others fall by the wayside.  Stories are not told to the reader…you must suck the reader into the story with visual imagery (Picture writing) and emotions.

A story without emotions is like an eagle without wings.  

You can't just have wonderful, believable characters, you must follow the five precepts of storytelling: Make the reader See, Hear, Feel, Taste and Smell what's going on in each and every scene. These things far outweigh style, structure and grammar. They are the core of storytelling.

Emotions are the primary tool of the Storyteller. If you don't feel it…neither will the reader.

Unless every book is the much-maligned "book of your heart," you're playing the wrong game. No matter how many words you vomit onto pages daily, how much you hone your craft, how manic you are with promotion, how many friends and family members and other writers you convince to like and tag and talk about your books ad nauseam…the moment you lose sight of the story as the thing that really matters, you're finished.

A great book leaves you with many experiences…and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.

Always write the story of your heart. If your stories haven't left scars, they sure as heck won't even nick anyone else's. Choosing the right visceral, evocative, and telling details to color your plot and character is paramount in sucking the reader in. Once your reader is invested in your story and characters, you've got them hooked and they'll keep coming back for more! They become your fan base…your brand.

"I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly." Edgar Rice Burroughs


  1. Right on target.

  2. Yes! Great stuff here. Too many writers neglect the five precepts, and they forget to include emotion. And I love the Burroughs quote. Thanks for posting!

  3. Ken--excellent post. Your emphasis on "story" is the secret key to the literary kingdom.

  4. Thanks, Tom. In my opinion, it always has been.

  5. I agree with what you say about writing a good exciting story. However, no writer can call himself a professional if he or she ignores style and grammar. They go hand in hand with a good story. Perhaps I misunderstood?

    I find that writing the story is only 10% of the process, crafting and editing the manuscript is then a long, slow, careful process that comprises the rest of the work.

    1. Didn't say 'ignore' grammar, which by the way doesn't have anything to do with 'style'. I think my blog indicated that in order of importance, story comes first. Grammar tends to evolve over the years and if someone is focusing on grammatical correctness, they do so at the expense of the story. I don't know who died and made Chicago Manual of Style, god...I learned with Strunk and White.
      In my opinion, Excellence in storytelling depends less on rules of grammar than on the sense of what just sounds right. Story is the art, grammar is the science and to me, art will always come first. That's why I used that quote from ERB.

    2. I cannot agree. One can get so bogged down in grammar and editing that the liveliness of the story is lost. Write it, love it then leave it be.

    3. Poor grammar (and spelling) can throw you out of a story. In my opinion, that's never a good thing. I don't care how good the story might be, if the writing lacks the basic refinement of presentable grammar (or spelling) it'll get binned by me.

    4. There you go, Frank. Don't know how 'spelling' came into this, but in fiction, especially in dialogue, we have a lot of latitude in both grammar and spelling. The final arbiter will always be the reader (buyer), not the critic or grammaticist...Check your royalty payments.

  6. As I read the post, the love of the story came through loud and clear. I kept remembering the stories that impacted my life for the very reasons you stated. As an oral storyteller first, it all makes so much sense. Doris