I love words — great, lush paragraphs bursting with description `a la Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien. Like most writers, I work hard honing the nuts and bolts of my craft — grammar, diction, moving dialogue — the writing techniques that make the bones of a good story.
But where does technique stop and story begin? And which is more important?
I hate to admit this—really, really hate it. But a compelling story is more important than good writing techniques. Ugh. There it is — truth on the page.
Don’t get me wrong — no one likes to read crappy writing. But if your story is strong, readers will look past minor technical errors to find out what happens next. On the other hand, where writing mechanics are top-notch but the story’s going nowhere, people lose interest fast.
I’m not advocating letting your technical writing skills languish. Instead, I’m hoping to encourage interest in developing stories that suck readers in and hold their heads in the vortex so they come out screaming on the other side: “Wow, what a ride!”
Your story needs muscle to keep moving. It needs plot, character arcs, backstory. I’m guilty of avoiding the finer points of plot and planning when it comes to story, and I’ll admit, though it pains me, that I focus more on a clever turn of phrase than in setting my protagonist to task.
And if I’m going to be successful, I need to work hard to change this.
If you’ve ever worked out at a gym, you’ve seen guys with ginormous arms that float in midair, but their legs look like they came right off a stick figure. They look like that because, for them, upper body training is “easy” and lower body is “hard”. My point is: It’s easy to overtrain the things that are easy or fun for you to work on and let the rest fall by the wayside. You know how silly those guys look: Don’t let your stories be all pumped with words and no legs to stand on.
You need to train your story-telling muscles, too!
I occasionally hear from fellow writers about how much they hate writing “the slow parts.” I’m talking about character and plot development essentials. I, too, would rather be writing action, action, ACTION all the livelong day. But you have to build your cart carefully before you can send it whizzing up and down the hills of plot, and those ‘slow parts’ are critical to setting up your story to be relatable and momentum-filled.
So the next time you’re feeling like you want to work on writing techniques, make sure you pay equal attention to all your writing muscles — not just the ones that give you pleasure to expand. As Ben Franklin would say, “No pain, no gain.” Of course, he also said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” So go out and start writing something everyone wants to read!
See you on the next page!