The Secret To Writing A Better Story

7,000 words. It took over a tenth of a decent sized novel (50,000 words/200 odd pages) for me to realize that I hated my writing.

The culprit? My style; it was a long finger that made me want to vomit up a better novel.

It all boiled down to one simple thing: authenticity, or the lack thereof. I wrote what I thought would be “good.” I tried to follow my writing idols a bit too closely instead of trying to produce my own unique voice.

It’s a natural tendency: you love reading Terry Brooks; you’ve inhaled every book he’s written, and he’s a successful fantasy author, so when you sit down to write, you emulate his style.

The problem is, of course, that you aren’t Terry Brooks. Or J.K. Rowling. Or Stephenie Meyer. Or Tom Clancy (phew!).

You are you. And I am me. Seems like the start to a Saturday Morning special (or a Weight Watchers commercial), eh? But in all seriousness, there is nothing wrong with your style. It’s unique, it’s authentic, it’s … you!

And it’s the root of your happiness as a writer.

Check out this paragraph from my 7,000 word draft:

“Aaron waited for the storm to subside; it only grew worse, and the low rumble of thunder was traveling closer. He stood near a window in a small side room; he pressed his forehead against the cool stained glass, his arctic blue eyes scanning the streets outside, and sighed. The hairs on his neck wouldn’t relax, and a heat was climbing up his stomach and spreading under his skin. He wanted to smash the window and inhale the rain.”

Now, the paragraph is grammatically correct, and it’s sort of interesting in that the weather is ominous, and we can tell something’s bothering dear old Aaron. It’s not terrible (I hope).

But, and here’s the important part, it’s not Michael. Not really Michael (I’m Michael by the way).

THIS is me:

“Aaron was trying to decide how sorry he felt for the kid.

The little boy sat naked and crying on the doorstep of a rundown house. He cradled his knees, and with each sob he rattled his bony frame. He’d probably been roaming the streets by himself for days, trying to find his parents or his lost dog, Oatmeal. That sounded like a name a kid would give his dog.

Whimpering. Filthy. Starving. Imaginary pet. A solid eight on the sympathy scale (tens were reserved for maimed children with weak, hopeful smiles). Aaron sighed, walked up the crumbled cement walkway, and sat next to him.”

It’s like night and day, isn’t it?

Maybe I was embarrassed to write in my own style (which affected my characterization of Aaron above); I can be pretty sarcastic, and my own views on morality are somewhat … looser than most people. I’d try to think of my imaginary readers and how they’d react to my writing.

I’d think to myself “I can’t write a protagonist who thinks like that! He’s gotta be pure and knightly and good and …”

Bland. Utterly bland.

I wasn’t writing the way I really wanted to, and I was MISERABLE when I sat down in front of my pc to reach my word quota for the day.

So I did the best thing I could ever do in my life: I told Microsoft Word to create a blank document, dug deep into my twisted brain, and produced something closer to my own style.

Is it groundbreaking? Nope; am I going to sell a million copies? Who knows? But I can say with certainty that I am LOVING every minute that I spend writing this new novel, and those 7,000 words that took me a couple of weeks to get down are nearly reclaimed after 4 DAYS.

The moral of the story: write how you love. If you’re not happy and excited when you sit down to write, then chances are you aren’t writing what you want to write.

Of course, we all have our off days when we don’t even want to look at a sheet of paper. We’d rather play videogames (Skyrim *ahem*) or read a book. But when your off days become every day, then you know you’ve got a problem.

Trust yourself, my fellow writers. You can’t anticipate how your readers will react. You just might find that someone out there digs your writing.

Hopefully, a million someones. 🙂

Share your thoughts guys.

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14 comments on “The Secret To Writing A Better Story

    • I feel that way whenever I visit art blogs or peruse Pinterest. I can’t even draw an awesome dinosaur and squirrel. 🙂

      By the way, your password protected post was brilliant. You had me for a microsecond. Edit: or was that really a password protected post? I thought it was a kind of post-modern post that tested how willing people were to share their passwords. I didn’t actually get in by the way.

      Sigh…I’m so confused, which is why I’m not an artist, lol.

      • Haha! I’m not that brilliant 😛 though does that mean I would have had your password if I were some sort of semi-savvy hacker? Did I miss out on posting doodles all over your blog?

        It’s an actual password protected post, I only gave the pw to a few select friends. Nice try though!

  1. I seem to suffer from this quite a lot. D; I’ll read a book I enjoy, and I’ll think “Wow! Golly gee this sure is snazzy, and it’s so much *better* than what I write! Maybe I should try this!”

    10000 words later I’m basically flipping my table over and going on a rampage, Godzilla style. I’m still trying to find my Voice, and sometimes I wonder if I ever will; and even if I DO will it be a Voice people enjoy hearing? It’s hard to remember that readers probably won’t enjoy it if you can’t even enjoy writing it. 😄

  2. Crystal, look at what you just wrote! That’s your voice. Granted, not everyone has to write the way they “talk” or type normally, and you may want your writing to be more formal or at least carry a heavier tone.

    But the voice you use in your comment writing is intriguing! You seem to enjoy expressing yourself this way; ever tried writing in that style, even just to see if you like it or not?

    • Actually… No I haven’t! Tried writing this way, I mean. It was sort of drilled into me that the tone you use for conversation must always be different from the tone you use for writing, so I tend to bog myself down making my writing sound heavier and more serious than I’d actually prefer because for the longest time, that’s what I thought you were supposed to do!

      And THEN I was told, once you write a story in one tone, you have to continue that same tone for any sequels you may write, so the whole series is written in a uniform manner. So… I’m kind of stuck now? With a more serious tone. :C I don’t like it but it’s what I was taught to do, haha. I think if I tried to change it, anyone who liked my first book won’t like my second one…

      But I’m also afraid if I write a different way, and I enjoy writing that way, that my first book will turn people away! Argh! I’m stuck hip-deep in a mire of failure! Noooo!

  3. Hahaha! I can so relate with what you’re saying. I was taught the same thing (about serious tones); maybe everyone was in school.

    I had no idea you’d written a book already; a change in tone is something that you’d definitely have to consider carefully. You’re very right to think that people who digged your first book’s tone might be turned off by a change in style.

    Having said that, I’ve read some very successful books that have a conversational tone. It’s tied to the character. They tend to be Young Adult books, which I’m not sure is your genre of choice, but they do extremely well.

    A book that isn’t a YA book but is selling well and is actually pretty good is Ready Player One. If you ever get a chance to read an excerpt, check it out. It’s told in the first person, and the character is a major geek, so you can imagine what the language is like, but it works. He feels human.

    • Haha, yeah, changing the tone would be tough… Lightening it gradually might not be so bad though? Maybe if I ease readers into it… Which would be appropriate considering I’ll be easing myself into writing it! It’s worth a shot, anyway. 😛 I might have to rewrite half my book later if I don’t like it but c’est la vie! There’s always the risk of that. xD

      I do write YA, but third person. Hmm… I’ll have to mull this one over!

      I’ve heard of Ready Player One, I’ll have to pick that up next time I have some spending money~ Everyone only ever has great things to say about it. I do so enjoy nerdy characters, haha.

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