Have you ever heard a new song and thought, ‘hey, this isn’t half bad.’ At some point in that song things go astray and you shake your head and say ‘that doesn’t really fit with the song.’ It made you stop, right? I bet you even had that confused expression on your face, the creased brows, curled lip, maybe even the sideways tilt of the head.
The first time I heard this song I did just that:
The song starts with the guy practically talk-singing, not really singing at all and then, what? What the heck happened? They actually sang the chorus.
‘Wait a minute,’ I said with my brows creased, lip curled and head slightly tilted. Yes, I was confused. ‘Hey, is this the same song?’
Turns out it was. At the end the dude starts talk-singing again, which totally went with the beginning of the song, but not the middle. What? What?
Here’s the thing: the song kind of grows on you and after you listen to it a couple of times, you realize, ‘hey, maybe this is supposed to be this way after all.’
It’s an epiphany.
Okay, do you have all that?
Stories are the same, well with a little exception.
Have you ever been reading a story and thought, ‘hey, this isn’t half bad.’ I bet you have. Then, at some point during the story, the character does or says something completely out of, well, character. So you stop reading, go back and reread the last few lines and you still can’t figure out what just happened. You go back, read again. And again. And again.
Oh, wait a minute. There it goes. I understand now.
There’s that light bulb moment where you get it and all is well with the universe.
Except, it isn’t.
The similarities between songs and stories that seem to have parts that don’t make sense in them end there.
If a song throws you out the first few times you hear it, it’s okay. It still can grow on you like a really bad skin disease. Not that a skin disease is a good thing, but songs have a chance to redeem themselves by listening to them until you start to like them.
Stories don’t have that benefit. If a person is reading and all of a sudden things come to a grinding halt because something doesn’t make sense or something doesn’t sound right, then there’s a problem. Sure, the reader can read that part again and again until they get it, but the flow of the story has been disrupted. The great feeling of a moving piece has been ruined. Even if a reader gets it on just the second read, it lingers in the back of their minds and they never really forget it.
‘How was that book, Herbie?’
‘The one you just finished.’
‘Oh, it was good, but there were a couple of spots that didn’t make sense.’
‘Don’t get me wrong. The book was good, but there were a couple of times where I had to reread a part to understand it completely.’
That should never happen. As readers, you should never have to stop and reread anything, unless it’s good. If it confuses you, then it’s a problem
As writers, we have to try and make as much sense as possible without spoon-feeding the readers everything. The stories have to unfold and our characters have to be realistic. Scenery and descriptions need to be as realistic as possible—they’re characters as well. There has to be action tempered with character development.
I’m not a big fan of just writing what everyone else writes, or in the conventional style that everyone else writes in. I like to tell stories in an easy style, conversational tone and all. I also experiment with narration and story style. It keeps things from getting boring for me.
In the short story collection I have been putting together over the last few weeks, there are a couple of unconventional pieces; stories told not quite like the others. I like them.
When I am done with this collection, I think I may have to do another one down the road. One that is strictly non conventional in the storytelling. But that’s for later on.
During the selection process, my wife Cate, read every story in consideration. She pointed out things, including parts that made her say, ‘huh?’ It is at those parts where I have fallen down in my storytelling. Thankfully, she’s great at catching things for me. She pulls no punches and has stabbed me through the characters more than once.
Writers please get someone to read over your stories. Someone you trust, and not necessarily someone who is going to tell you, ‘oh that’s great.’ You need someone who is going to tell you there is an issue, someone who will tell you, ‘hey, I got confused here.’ Those are your best friends in this business.
Writing stories is similar to songs, except they have to make some bit of sense in the end and can’t lose you along the way. Readers are less forgiving than all of us who love music. Keep that in mind when writing that complex plotline.
Until we meet again, my friends…