As I’ve launched my editing business, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about story and its importance in writing. It’s honestly a shame that the concept of “story” often gets relegated to a fiction-only space. Telling a story, delivering a narrative, is just as important in creative non-fiction, academic writing, how-to, marketing, business, informational, and any other kind of technical writing you can think of, as it is in fiction.
What is “story”? The first thing that comes to mind for most people (it did for me) is exactly what dictionary.com describes in its first definition of the word–“accounts of imaginary people or events told for entertainment.” This, unsurprisingly, strictly focuses on story as fiction. I found the second definition far more helpful in unveiling what good storytelling does in writing: “an account in the evolution of something.”
It’s the word “evolution” that stands out to me.
Stories evolve. A good story starts at one, simple point and develops gradually into something more complex, bringing the reader along for the journey. This does not happen only in creative writing. Evolution is important in all forms of writing. An academic essay sets out to prove something to its reader; over the course of the piece, a thesis evolves through each successive proof, turning something simple into something more complex. Even a car’s manual tells a story–it lays out the basics of car maintenance and builds on them until the reader can understand more complex concepts.
Story is present. It is deliberate. And it needs to be cultivated. If that car manual doesn’t start by explaining simpler concepts, the reader is left confused and frustrated. If an academic paper doesn’t evolve a logical path to its conclusion, it won’t be taken seriously.
If you’re writing anything, you have a story to tell; and good storytelling is far more difficult to pull off than you might think. Creating good story–good writing–takes practice, but it’s not something impossible to learn. I encourage you to start seeing story in the world around you, so that when you need to tell a story of your own, you will know what to look for.
Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan Genre: Fantasy, YA 4 stars.
The title of this book is unusual. It reads more like the heading of a tabloid article about a celebrity disappearance than a book title, which is unfortunate as this book is neither tabloid nor about a celebrity disappearance. It is so much better than that, weaving elements of Victorian mystery with folklore and myth in a well-developed, ever-expanding world where witches born with the ability to write magic into being are drowned, strange, possibly-wolfmen are locked in basements, but regular girls like Julia should not be able to vanish.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
I really, really wanted to like this book. I really did. At the same time, I don’t want to downplay the importance of Okorafor’s work. The need for non-Eurocentric fantasy, and especially African based fantasy, in today’s publishing world cannot be overstated. Okorafor’s world, her folklore, had so much potential, but I found that potential was waylaid by overused fantasy tropes, awkward pacing, and a rushed ending. Continue reading “Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor”→
Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautifully written book, with intricate detail that shows that Arthur Golden has done his research. However, the story is shadowed with sexism and ultimately becomes a “fairy-tale” written by a man. Continue reading “Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden”→
A notorious trope in fantasy trilogies is that the second book often falls flat. You know what I mean: characters recovering from a great battle and preparing for the Final Conflict, having petty arguments, traveling endless miles or sitting in one location for an annoying amount of time. But there are a few fantasy series I’ve discovered where I would argue that the second or subsequent books are better than the first, and absolutely worth holding out for. Continue reading “T5W: Fantasy Series that Improved Over Time”→