Over the last few days I’ve been wrapping up a content edit for one of my clients. I do a lot of content editing in my business for writers who’ve written a draft and now want to get feedback to make improvements.
I’ve never enjoyed a content edit as much as I did doing this content edit for my long-time client, because as I’ve worked with her over the last couple years, I’ve watched her become better and better at story craft. And it shows in her manuscript.
This is her best one to date. As I was reading it, I just kept thinking how proud I am of her for how far she’s come in such a short period of time.
She’s now a storyteller. She understands structure and opposition and she has character arc and a journey with stakes. She’s spent enough time studying and practicing and learning that she can now write a cohesive, engaging story that makes you want to turn the page and keep reading.
Most stories that I read are a total mess. There’s no structure, the plot is thin, opposition is nowhere to be found and the character arc is nonexistent. And this is a HUGE problem.
In fact, many writers never even hire a content editor (even BIGGER problem!), so they never actually find out what’s wrong with their story and how to fix it. And then, even worse, they go off and self-publish that baby, hoping it will somehow make a bunch of sales and even land them on the NY Times Best Seller list.
And I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m saying it because landing on the NY Times list is already a hard enough thing to accomplish, but throw into the mix a poorly done story with no structure and no opposition, etc., and you’ve pretty much shot yourself in the foot.
There’s no way your novel will ever land on the NY Times Best Seller list or an Amazon Best Seller list or any list, for that matter, if you haven’t done your due diligence to become an actual storyteller.
News flash: just because you’re a writer and have lots of story ideas doesn’t make you a storyteller.
A storyteller is someone who understands what keeps people hooked. A storyteller knows how to structure a story so that the pacing and the conflict and drama unfold in an optimal way. A storyteller has mastered the craft of weaving words into a cohesive tale.
Writers are born, but storytellers are made.
So while it’s damn-near impossible to teach writing to someone who isn’t meant to be a writer, it’s not impossible to teach a decent writer how to be a good storyteller.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can write all the beautiful prose in the world, but if you don’t know how to write an engaging, cohesive story with structure and opposition, even your beautiful prose can’t save you from the slush pile.
You must learn craft. You must master the art of storytelling. You must do your due diligence.
Not just for yourself as a writer and storyteller, but for your audience, the people who will eventually read the words you’ve weaved into a story.
If you want to be a professional novelist, you have to care enough about your audience to step into the identity of the writer and storyteller you’re meant to be. You have to be willing to go the distance and learn as much as you can about the craft of storytelling.
I often say you must “master” craft, but the truth is, no one ever really masters it. Not even Stephen King. Because there’s always another layer of learning and always a way to go deeper.
Story craft is like an onion. And most writers are still dancing on the surface of it. But they’ve never actually taken the time to peel off the skin and start to dig deeper into the layers.
And that’s a huge mistake. One that could cost you your publishing career before you’ve even gotten it off the ground.
I spent 5+ years studying story and learning structure and gaining a deeper knowledge and understanding of how all of the pieces of craft work together to create a cohesive, engaging story that makes you want to keep reading (or watching). And I’m still learning to this day.
Because I know there’s always something else to learn.
A year and a half ago, I didn’t fully understand the nuances of writing a scene. I had a good understanding of purpose and mission and how to inject that into a scene and bring the story to life. But I hadn’t yet learned that, just like your story plot, scenes have a specific structure.
But because I’m always learning and growing and going deeper into my storytelling education, I learned about scene structure and began practicing and implementing it on my own stories and watching it come to life on the screen (I watch A LOT of movies).
Now not only is my own scene-writing better, but I’m able to bring that additional layer of storytelling into my work as a story coach and content editor.
And I’ll never stop. Not ’til the day I take my final breath. Because I am a born writer and a made storyteller.
Telling stories is all I ever wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write and create and make up stories to entertain people. From a young age, I saw myself as a novelist and a screenwriter and watching my stories come to life on the big-screen.
I always knew that was the direction I was heading, even if I pushed it away for a long time (and believe me, I did).
That’s why I’m so committed to being a better storyteller. Because I want my audience to LOVE my stories. I want my audience to RAVE about my stories. I want them to leave me 5-star reviews and beg me to write and release my next story.
I care about my readers. Very much.
That’s why I’ve spent so much time learning story structure. That’s why I hire editors and Beta Readers to read my stories and tell me how to make them better. That’s why, even though I’m a story coach and content editor and have worked with hundreds of writers on planning and developing their stories I still continue to watch and deconstruct movies and read books on craft and dig deeper.
Because I not only want to be one of those storytellers who hits the NY Times Best Seller list and has their stories turned into movies, but I WILL BE one of those storytellers.
I will be at the top of my genre. I will be an Academy-Award winning screenwriter. I will be famous in Hollywood and the writing world for my stories. I’ve already decided all of this and set my mind to it, so I know it’s a done deal.
But that doesn’t mean I can just sit on my ass and write a couple stories.
Knowing what you’re destined for and what you’re meant for and what you want to create in your life is awesome, but it doesn’t excuse you from having to then fully step into the role of being that person–that writer and author and storyteller–right now.
Which means being willing to do the things most writers aren’t. It means spending more time studying craft and practicing storytelling than sitting around watching mindless TV. It means investing the money in a content editor or Beta Readers or a story coach or a workshop or course or book that will help you become better. It means doing the work day-in-and-day-out to improve your storytelling skills and your understanding of craft.
It means being willing to accept that being a great storyteller is a life-long journey that never really ends. Because you’ll never master it and you will die still not knowing everything.
But if you show up every day and do the work, you will become one of those storytellers who gets remembered long after you’re gone.
And, really, if you see yourself as a NY Times Best Selling novelist and you can imagine your stories being made into movies on the big-screen, then you owe it to yourself AND your readers to become the best writer and storyteller you can possibly be.
And it all starts with craft. It starts with becoming an expert in craft–and not just knowing what the pieces of storytelling are, but actually being able to implement those pieces in your own stories.
Do the work. Your future readers will thank you for it.
Dream life or bust,