Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Over the next few posts, I thought I'd share some 'conversations' I've had with a friend and movie critic. We spent many a year watching the Oscar nominated films and had some fun and sometimes contentious hours of discussion about the films we'd just seen.

I asked him to give me his perception and birds eye view of how he perceived stories and storytelling. His answers were so precise and thought out I feel that to do them justice I would cover each section separately. This post will start with his overview and my thoughts about how he sees story. Thank you Joe. How do you see your stories within the concepts he brings up. When it comes to romance and history, the things we love to write and read, telling the best story possible is the goal. Even early writers like Helen Hunt Jackson had romance on the mind with her Saxe Holmes stories.

  • General Notes
    1. Writing is NOT a list of rules, but a list of principles, (thus explained below. To be discussed in future posts)
    2. Contrary to popular belief, you show a story, you never tell a story. If your audience is film or television or stage then it’s a literal SHOW don’t tell. This means the audience is smart and they have already been conditioned to watch the textual actions of the actors for story cues. The writer need not hold the hand of the audience. As for the novelist, it’s a non-literal SHOW. It’s the writer’s responsibility to paint the picture for the reader. Be as descriptive as possible without going overboard.
    3. The goal of the writer is to create a “suspension of disbelief.” Great stories take hold and grasp the audience to a point that they themselves forgot about their real world surroundings and focus on the roller coaster actions and events of the story. We have all been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it. Just ask a Starwars fan.
Let's take number one. Writing is NOT a list of rules. I think most would agree, although I think we sometimes find ourselves creating rules. If we have rules then we can follow them and the story will magically appear. It is true genres have rules or ideas that readers expect, but are the great stories really written by rules? I do like the idea of principles. According to quora.com a principle internally motivates you to do tings that seem good and right...A rule externally compels you, through force , threat or punishment, to do the things someone else has deemed good or right. For myself, when I write, it's to tell the story that I want, in the way I want. If I can't love my story, then I don't think readers will either.

Number two: Contrary to popular belief, you show a story, you never tell a story. The writer need not hold the hand of the audience. How many times have we been told to show, not tell. But that can be difficult. It can come down to semantics, but I believe if you show your readers through dialogue, both external and internal you can come close. The rest is painting the picture of what's around to spark the dialogue.

I also love the statement "The writer need not hold the hand of the audience."  There are times when authors think they have to tell everything. If you do that, how can a reader be involved, allow their imagination to fill in the blanks. I've had conversations with friends who loved a story because their imagination was involved. They could fill in the gaps with what they needed the story to do for them.

Number three: The goal of the writer is to create a “suspension of disbelief.” Perhaps this is my favorite. When we tell stories we want our readers to join us in the world we have created. To do that, we need to know that world well before we can draw others in. Once you succeed at that, readers are willing to go wherever your characters are headed. They will cry, cheer, scream and jump for joy with the hero and heroine.

Most of us read and write about the West. It is a real yet mythical place. There is joy in the complex simplicity of that time. It is in the sharing of that love of time and place that we wish to share with our readers, at least I do. History is a passion, and telling stories of that history is what keeps me up and night and at the keyboard.

Until next time and Part Two, here's to telling great stories that touch the hearts of our readers and ourselves.

"The Homestead" a story in the anthology "The Untamed West" takes place in Colorado and had it inception based on a story near where I live.  If you are so inclined, you can find it and many other 'Western' stories there.

Below is an excerpt:

      Ruth placed the axe against her left leg, rubbing her tired shoulder muscles with calloused hands. She noticed rain clouds hanging low against the northwestern sky, as though they were waiting for some signal to move.
     Ruth watched the same pattern all spring that seemed to be repeating itself this fall. Her eyes, tired and sad, stared at the hated lonely stretch of land, the small piece of the greater high desert at the mountain's base in the new Colorado Territory. She'd hated the place when Joseph had brought them here. Hated it even more now. She was a prisoner. Not as most would think, but a prisoner she knew herself to be. She was hemmed in by the endless stretch of land to the east and south, the dark, high mountains to the west and forest to the north.
     "It's amazing how love will lead you to the loneliest places," she told the blowing wind. Wind that told of the coming storm.
     Sighing, Ruth turned back to the pile of wood she'd dragged in. Again, she picked up the newly sharpened axe, intending to finish before the storm arrived.
     "Mother, Mother," Ruth heard excitement and fear in her five-year-old son Samuel's voice.
     Heart pounding, Ruth moved away from the wood she was chopping. She turned to see Samuel standing some twenty feet away. He was standing statue still, not moving.

The Untamed West
Amazon ebook

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners
Western Fictioneers

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

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