by M A N
Truman Capote said that he was like a semantic Paganini, that he could just throw words up into the air and they would come down in the perfect way.
Must be nice, huh? Like most mortals, I toss my words into the air only to struggle with them for hours after they've tumbled haphazardly across the page. I guess that makes me more of a semantic Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Even so, I learned how to consistently write well. Not brilliantly, but well. I have a sense of rhythm, cadence, and can usually put words on paper in interesting ways. My high school teachers and college professors always told me so, so it had to be true ('cause they would never lie). So, armed with the confidence they instilled in me, I spent those nomadic years following my college graduation writing numerous short stories and one very epic, very unfinished, novel. Yet, no one wanted to publish them. I couldn't give them away. So what was the problem? I knew how to write, had a decent grasp of English grammar, and knew how to operate the spell check. So why the hell wouldn't anyone publish my stories?
It's because they weren't stories.
They were, as one kind editor told me, just book reports. There was nothing there. Every rejection slip I received (that wasn't a simple form letter) said the same thing: you can write, but you can't tell a story.
At the time, for the life of me, I thought that they they the same thing. I mean, aren't they? Isn't that what writing is, telling a story? Obviously, the answer is an emphatic "no." It would be like someone claiming to be an architect when all they know how to do is drive a nail into a board with only three hits of a hammer. A good skill to have, but that doesn't mean you can design a bridge.
Most of you might be thinking to yourselves, well, duh. But for me hearing this was like a slap to the face. It never even occurred to me that writing and story telling were two totally different things. But now that I knew that they were, I had to ask myself a very horrifying question: "Do I even know what a story IS?" Again, the answer was an emphatic "no." Turns out, that when it came to telling a story, I couldn't write my way out of a wet paper bag with a needle-sharp number two pencil. I mean, what is this "conflict" you speak of? You're telling me that all my stories have to have fist fights? I was clueless. All the things that go into making a story were nothing but vague, abstract concepts to me. All those years my teachers and professors were teaching me how to write, no one bothered to teach me how to tell a story.
Fortunately, I've had some wonderful and patient people sit down with me and explain the basic elements of story telling. Now, I won't go into what makes a story here because, honestly, I'm still learning myself and there are others much more qualified than I who can give you a better understanding (you're reading KFM, so chances are you've already got a head start). But it's just something to keep in mind when you're slaving over your world building or fine tuning the description of your antagonist's handlebar mustache. Good things in their own right, but is there a story? It doesn't matter how detailed and well-crafted your world is, if there's no story, no one will care.