The Nature of Storytelling

Written January 13, 2015

I’m not going to start in with elemental structures about plotting. I’m not going to go over stuff like story arcs, character creation, or “Show, Don’t Tell.” I’m going even more basic than that with this entry. The entire point of this entry is accomplish two simple things:

1. Explain briefly what storytelling is.
2. Explain why it is important for writers to understand what storytelling is.

This sort of thing is so basic that you might be wondering why I’m bothering even writing it. If somebody is an author, then surely they MUST know these things already, right?

Unfortunately, no. I occasionally find ebooks and authors that seem to miss these fundamentals in some important ways, so many in fact that I decided to write this blog post. If you already know everything that I say in this post, that’s great! But if you run into other people who DON’T seem to understand it, feel free to direct them this way.

Stating the obvious here for those who might miss the obvious:
“Storytelling” is simply telling a story.

A “Story”is simply a series of events. If you write something that has absolutely no events (implied or actual), or only one event, then what you have written is not a story.

“Telling” is the use of words to convey information.

What this adds up to is that Storytelling is “communicating a series of events” to an audience.

Are you with me?

Here’s why that’s important:
The nature of storytelling determines to a large extent the quality of any story that you write, because it also describes your goal when writing, to communicate.

A story that communicates successfully with its readers is, in a very fundamental way, a better story than a story that doesn’t communicate very well with its readers. As an author, you have something in your head that you wish to convey to other people. You have an imaginary series of events that you construct while plotting or writing a story, and the entire point of storytelling is to get other people to understand what’s inside your head, as best as you possibly can.

If you’re describing a character, you want the audience to imagine a person exactly as you imagine the person. If you’re describing a sequence of events, you want the audience to be able to understand exactly what is going on in that scene. And as a general rule, especially if you want to make money writing, you want as wide of an audience as possible, which means that your communication needs to be structured in such a way that a wide audience will be able to read what you have written, and to get the same story in their heads as you imagined in your own.

What this means is that very often a storyteller needs to set his/her ego aside when dealing with feedback from readers, because that feedback is telling you how successful your communication with the reader has been.

If a significant percentage of your readers are confused by a passage that you have written, then–no matter how crystal clear you think that passage already is–you should probably look at it again, to see if it can be made any clearer. Likewise, if you are using any writing technique that you find personally appealing, and you find that that technique interferes with communication with the reader, then you should re-assess the value of that technique in your writing.

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