My Three Revelations About Storytelling

I’m starting to realize a few things about writing and storytelling that I wanted to share in this post:

Writing vs. Storytelling

There’s a difference between being a good writer and a good storyteller.  I used to believe that the two were always interlinked, but recent book successes (cough, cough, 50 Shades of Grey, cough, cough), have proven otherwise.  I haven’t read Fifty Shades.  The subject matter doesn’t interest me, but I do admit that I was intrigued enough by the hype to read a preview of this book on Amazon.  I couldn’t get past the first few pages without growing irritated.  Why on earth is this book selling?  The 1-star reviews on Amazon were written more eloquently than the book itself.  (Plus, they were hysterical.)

But, obviously, the international sales figures for this book speak volumes, so who am I to judge?  E.L. James did something right.  If you can look past the questionable writing and subject matter, which I admit was difficult for me to do, she’s a genius when it comes to connecting with her audience.  Readers identify with her characters.  There are plenty of well-written books gathering dust on the shelves of libraries and bookstores across the nation.  I have to give credit where it’s due.  E. L. James is a phenomenal storyteller and I can learn a lot from her.

Scene Construction

My last post on this blog, I Am The Daughter Of Foreigners, received the most response.  People actually read it and sent me positive comments.  That’s huge compared with the crickets chirping after some of my other posts.  So, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what I did differently on this one so that I can replicate it in future posts.

The bottom line is that I focused on the story.  I wrote for myself.  I had a clear picture of the scene in my head, since I actually lived it.  This post took all of 15 minutes to write.  I spent another 45 minutes polishing it, which included walking away from it and returning to it a few times.  But that post almost wrote itself.

When I went back to analyze it, I noted a few points about how I constructed the scene:

1.  Title:  A few friends told me that they stopped to read it because of the title.

2.  Setup:  The first paragraph setup the story at the Secretary of State’s office and introduced the main characters.

3.  Framing:  I didn’t start the scene too early and I didn’t drag the story on for too long.  I got to the point.

4.  Conflict:  There was an obvious confrontation between me (the Protagonist) and the older couple (the Antagonist).

5.  Resolution:  The “story” had an emotionally satisfying conclusion.  “Justice” was served.

6.  Emotional Premise:  The “racism/immigration” theme of this post would make most anyone’s blood boil.

7.  Information Exposition:  I knew the point that I wanted to make with this post without even thinking about it.

I’m not sure if I can replicate this each time I post something.  Every day of my life isn’t a conflict (thank goodness!).  But I think the takeaway from this is to have a clear picture in your head of the scene and the point that you want to make before writing it.

Selling A Book Will Be Harder Than Publishing A Book

Okay.  Let me be up front about this.  I don’t have a finished manuscript.  I’m nowhere near publication.  But only two months into this blog, I’m starting to realize that it’s hard to get people to read what you write.  There’s so much noise.  How does a person cut through all of that?

As challenging as writing a book is, publication is harder.  As hard as publishing a book will be, selling it is the ultimate challenge.  If I can’t get people to read the FREE content on a 900-word blog, how will I get people PAY MONEY and read 300 pages in a book?  (NOTE:  The assumption is that the free content on a blog is technically well-written and emotionally evocative.  That’s the minimum requirement in this market, and I’m still learning the craft.)

Let’s assume that I’ve written the next Harry Potter book and that it’s been published.  (I know that this is arrogant, but hear me out.)  So what’s the next step?  How do you get readers to actually look between the covers of this supposed jewel if you’re an unknown author?  How did J.K. Rowling, who had her struggles getting HP published, get people to read her book before she became a writing legend?  At some point, no one knew who she was.  How did she break through the barriers to entry?

I’m an engineer.  I like to figure out puzzles and to me, this is the ultimate marketing puzzle.  I will definitely share any insights that I uncover, so stay tuned!  Happy Selling!

7 thoughts on “My Three Revelations About Storytelling

  1. M. Talmage Moorehead says:

    I recently heard an entrepreneur who now “sells blue jeans to the miners,” (i.e. sells books and services on how to write a book and get it published) saying that in all his years of dealing with business, he’s never come across anything as strange as the mindset of the traditional publishing industry. He said that these people are often more concerned in keeping an image of sophistication and erudition than making money. He says they will often reject books they know will make more money than the ones they accept because they have an elitist attitude and an intellectual snob’s reputation to maintain.

    I don’t know if he was right about that, but I do sense that fiction lends itself naturally to the sort of thing we see in music. I’ve always been a meat-and-potatoes rock and roll man, but I took voice lessons, found I had some talent for Italian Opera, began listening to Pavarotti and suddenly realized Opera was more emotionally powerful to me than the rock music I’d loved all my life. It was almost as if I’d blinked and become a genuine snobs who likes “serious” music.

    I know the same thing will happen to me in fiction if I read too much “serious literature.” I’ll develop a taste for “the fresh twist of phrase” and the long boring stuff that makes literature professors cry.

    I ain’t doing it. 😉 I have a message I want to deliver to millions and millions of average people. In order to have a chance at that, I have to love the type of stories they love and try my best to write them.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. brittanyekrueger says:

    These three revelations are so true! I have read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and while I attempted to read “Fifty Shades Darker,” I wasn’t interested. I’d read “Fifty Shades” because it was such a sensation, even though it was so poorly written.

    Liked by 1 person

    • T.D. Donley says:

      So what did you think of her storytelling? Was it worth reading? She’s a really good case study of an unknown author who broke through the publishing barriers…… :). I may have to break down and read it, even though I’m not looking forward to it.


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