Stories, and Why I Hate Them – The Grumpy Writing Coach

28 Dec
Stories, and Why I Hate Them – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Part of a series of articles for the new writer

     Okay, this is another rant. Why? Because I’m pretty damn tired of reading Stories. And that capital S is there deliberately. I like stories. I just can’t stand Stories.
     Talk to any group of new writers or visit any online writers community and it’s all about Story. Look at the posted work on those communities and it’s always the same. They’re all focused on telling their Story. And that’s it. That’s the whole and only purpose of the writing, to make the reader know the Story. Except that it’s not. Writing fiction is about entertainment—interesting, satisfying, and time filling entertainment.
     Flush the idea that readers come to us for Story. Burn it. Shred it. Feed it to the hogs. Just get rid of it, because readers don’t give a damn about Story until they close the book, lean back, and say, “That was a _______ story.” (Fill in good/great/lousy/etc. as appropriate)
     Until they do that, all that matters is the writing. Think about it. I can take any situation, hand it to virtually any competent writer and say, “Write me a page about ___,” and be certain I’ll get a page that will entice the reader to continue to the bottom and then turn to the next page. It can be about a physical battle, a romantic tryst, or taking out the damn garbage. It doesn’t matter, because that skilled writer can entice you through their ability to make the scene both real and interesting to read, through their presentation skills, their command of point of view, and through their knowledge of what it takes to please a reader. That’s what sets the professional writer apart from all the wannabees. It’s not having great plot ideas. It’s not luck or “natural talent,” It’s knowing how to write for the selected medium. It’s knowing the little tricks of how to to hold a reader’s interest.
     And if you have that ability. If you can can entice your customer to read from top to bottom of the page because they want to, and do for three hundred fifty pages in a row, you’ve written something the reader will enjoy, and recommend to friends. And isn’t the entire purpose of buying fiction to find reading enjoyment on every page, from top to bottom? I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure don’t buy fiction and plow through a history lesson on the life of a fictional character just so I can find an interesting twist on page three twenty-five. That twist is a plus, not the reason I’m still reading well past bedtime. I’m doing that because of the writing.
     If your plot isn’t all that great a reader might say it wasn’t much of a story, true, but they will call it a satisfying read. And that’s what writing is all about. So give your customer a readable page, paragraph, sentence. Choose your words to entice. Think about making every single reading moment compelling, or at least more interesting than whatever a given reader might do where they not reading your book. Just, for God’s sake don’t focus on Story, because that’s history, and history is boring.
     Why? Because history is a chronicle, not a story. It’s a collection of facts, and we usually read facts to be informed, not entertained. They’re devoid of emotion because they’re about completed, and immutable events, not those events as they unfold. And I’m not talking about the use of past tense in presenting the story, I’m talking about being in the character’s moment of now, no matter the tense the writer elects to use in the telling.
     When we read history we’re not sharing the adventure and we have no emotional investment. We’re learning. We won’t worry if some action or plan of the protagonist will work because it’s already happened and we’re only being told the sequence in which it happened. But worry is something readers feed on. It’s worry that causes them to care, and it’s the trick we use, as writers, to hook our reader. If you can make a reader worry they care about the character’s future.
     Worry makes a reader speculate on what the protagonist should do, and what they, themself, would do, were they living the scene. And since the character is just as uncertain as we are, we form an emotional bond with that character because we have something in common, without realizing why, or even that we do. We only know that we want to know what will happen next. And if the writer is skilled enough to make it seem that the story is progressing in real-time (and we certainly should be) we will feel exactly the same sense of urgency the character does.
     But…if we tell the story as a chronicle of events, there can be no sense of urgency because it feels like a report, not something going on around us. And why does that matter? Because a report can be put aside. Great writing can’t.


6 responses to “Stories, and Why I Hate Them – The Grumpy Writing Coach

  1. kanundra

    April 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Saw a crit of yours on scribophile, and the address linking here. Going to nosey on around 🙂 Looks interesting.

  2. Peter

    November 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm


    I’m never sure what motivates people to take the time to write so many great articles, whatever it was, I’m glad you did.

  3. embrystical

    March 19, 2014 at 3:35 am

    Reblogged this on Utalentia and commented:
    Way to go shattering the illusion.

    • Jay Greenstein

      March 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      Thank you.

      • embrystical

        March 20, 2014 at 1:20 pm

        You’re welcome. You’re one of the only people I know to give well-rounded, true criticism.

    • Joseph Nebus

      April 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      I found the entry by way of Utalentia above and am glad I did.


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