Kim’s Tips for Better Storytelling (Part 3 of 3)

Part 1: What we can learn from movies (and translate to the page)

Part 2: Describing your emotions for the benefit of the reader

I really believe that STORY is the key to unlocking the change you want to see in your reader. You’re NOT writing your book to hear yourself talk or to prove your own expertise. You’re writing your book to HELP your reader.

And you are the expert. You do know your stuff.

But in order to translate that information from your heart, soul, and brain to the reader’s life, you’ve got to use a language she can hear and understand (and remember!)

That’s where STORY comes it. It’s the universal language because it deals in emotions.

Along with “Show, don’t tell” another adage of good storytelling is “Start in the action.”

Which is a fancy way of reminding authors that we RARELY need all the backstory and leadup. Which I totally agree with.

And I also acknowledge that starting in the middle can feel… abrupt. Not to the reader, but to the author. Because we WANT to describe it, we want to set the stage, we want to make sure the reader isn’t feeling lost, confused, or left behind.

However… readers are a lot smarter than we give them credit for! They rarely need all that backstory.


Storytelling Technique Three: Starting In The Middle

Part 1: Tell the story of a fight that you had with one other person.

Seems simple and straightforward, right?

After giving this assignment to DOZENS of my VIP clients, with the additional instructions of “don’t give any leadup or backstory,” I find that it’s still really hard to do.

Deep breathe, my fellow author! You can do it!

Start your story in the middle of the action! Storytelling tip 3 of 3 Share on XFor this story of a fight – be it verbal or physical – I want you to start after the first angry word is said, the first punch is thrown.

Or in my case and an ex-boyfriend, the moment I threw a frozen pizza at him!

Part 2: Edit the story – to remove any “telling” language.

Now that you’ve written your fight, you’re going to go back with an editor’s eye. This isn’t where your inner critic comes out to play – it’s where you’re looking at it with the mind of an author.

And you’ll use what you learned last week about “Show, Don’t Tell” to remove ANY language that relates to anger.

So if you said anything like:

I’m angry. I’m pissed. I’m mad, furious, seeing-red, etc., you get to go back in and take it out.

I want you to describe your feelings during this fight from what your body experienced.

For me, I don’t actually “see red” when I’m really angry. Instead, it’s like my vision narrows to a tunnel and my periphery vision goes dark. The object of that (external) anger is lit up with a spotlight and is in hyper detail.

Words you can’t use:
(directly and derivatives, or alternate parts of speech, there-of)

  • Angry
  • Mad
  • Furious
  • Rage
  • Indignation
  • Annoyance
  • Exasperation
  • Resentment
  • Irritated
  • Antagonize
  • Piss off

And avoid these turns of phrase/clichés too:

  • Blood boil
  • See red
  • Under the skin
  • Get your back up
  • Rattle someone’s cage
  • Drive crazy/up the wall

Imagine the POWER you’ll have as a storyteller when you can tell the true story of being in a fight without ever using the words mad, angry, etc. Your reader will FEEL the fury coursing through your veins – without having to be told that you were furious.

And when you can do this, your reader feels like she’s living it right along side of you!

Now someone asked me:

Does this mean I can NEVER use the emotion word to describe an emotion?

Dude! My beloved author!

This is WRITING, not math. We don’t deal in absolutes. Sometimes it’s a thousand times easier to pop in “furious” when you’re writing and KNOW you’ll come along later and make it more descriptive.

Sometimes it’s clearer to NAME that emotion – just tell them – and move on.

What you don’t know (yet) is how to have that level of discernment in your writing. All rules have their exceptions, especially in writing. Even experienced authors don’t always know if this is a “follow” or “break” moment in the first draft of writing. It’s WHY writing gets drafts!

Get it onto the page, to the best of your ability, and then it can be fixed in editing.

I’ll leave you with these caveats:

1. It’s easier to tone DOWN writing than it is to punch it up. Meaning, it’s far easier to swap in “I was so mad I was shaking” and take out “My hands were clenched, I could feel the tremors spreading through my body, and I consciously was moving my thumb from inside my fist to outside – so I didn’t break my thumb when I punched him in the nose!” than it is to go the OTHER way.

2. What CANNOT be fixed in editing is the words, the writing, the STORY, that isn’t on the page. If it’s still locked in your brain and heart, no amount of EDITING will draw it out. You can only do that with writing!

Kim Galloway
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