Who tells your stories, dear storyteller?
Have you ever thought about it? Are you like a biblical apostle, your fingers moving at the command of your characters? Do you wait for someone else to give you the words for that blank, white page?
Yesterday, I spent a portion of the afternoon crafting a short story for a fiction contest. Halfway through building the structure, I realized that I had no idea who was telling the story. I’ve never had that thought before, but it was a profound one for me.
After all, isn’t the character telling the story? It’s their story… right?
Well, yes. And no.
My characters aren’t real people. If they were, they might write their own damned books and leave me alone. In truth, my characters are imagined creations, built from my own thoughts and experiences and feelings and observations. Their lives are my stories, and I’ve made them all for a purpose. Some are for fun. (Wouldn’t it be cool to punch super-villains in the face?) Others are for serious reasons. (You know what’s not cool? Gun violence.) But, no matter how any of my characters came about, they were made by me.
These thoughts are at the heart of narrative. Specifically, of narration.
I think narration gets a weird passover when writers talk about stories. When I say “narration”, I mean choice of storyteller. Because, from a writer’s perspective, that’s what it is. Who is the audience made to believe is telling the story? Is the story written in the first-person view of an imagined character? Or, is the story written from a third-person point of view? If the latter: whose? (I’m ignoring second-person here because it’s… weird.)
This, I believe, is an issue that lots of authors face. Even if they don’t know it. It’s just not really talked about, as far as I’ve seen. Young authors might understand the differences between first-, second-, and third-person point-of-view, but the real weight of these terms is lost in slim definition. Point-of-view filters the narration, but point-of-view isn’t the narrator.
The narrator is who’s telling the story, and knowing who this person is will dramatically effect how the story is presented. In fact, it’ll frame and define the story for the writer themselves.
In many cases, dear storyteller, the narrator is you.
You created the characters, you built the world, you designed the plot, and you wrote the words. You’re telling a story you made up to the people reading it. And this is all very important to understand, even if it seems so annoyingly elementary.
Well, because it’s your name being printed on the books. It’s your autograph people will want. It’s your phone number that agents and publishers and event coordinators will call.
You don’t have to rely on a character to dictate your career, and you don’t have to rely on a character to write a book. You make the characters, you build the worlds, and you manipulate the audience’s emotions. Those characters and worlds and conflicts are all tools specifically designed to help you achieve that emotional manipulation.
I don’t pick up a Stephen King book so his characters can tell me a story. In most cases, I have no idea what characters are inside that book. I pick up a King novel to experience Stephen King telling me a story.
When I put a book back on the shelf, it’s not because the characters are despicable or horrible—it’s because those characters aren’t well-written, or the writing itself feels odd.
We’re so much more than writers. Writers just… write things. We tell stories. We realize the unreal. We deliver messages and emotional resonances to other people, and we do it through a craft. A craft with tools and mechanisms and backing science.
You aren’t just a physical body puppeteered by some corporeal, urban fantasy villain. You are an author who has designed this villain to say something meaningful, or to convey a lesson, or to give a face to some terrible feeling.
If you can internalize this information, you’ll feel much freer to explore your own talent. Your work will feel closer to you. Most importantly, it will be so much easier to start projects. (I’m not saying it’ll always be easy—but it’ll be easier to start.) For many, you’re only going to learn this lesson through one method: writing.
You have your own special way of telling stories, and you’re probably really good at it. In most cases, writers think they’re bad writers because their written words don’t match up with how they feel. And honestly, that’s because written words don’t have the advantages of vocal inflections, intonations, situational context, or being able to actually see the audience. The written word is a different beast with different rules.
The best you can hope to do with your words is narrate your stories and get out of your own way. When you’re done, you’ll get to experience the biggest advantage of the written word: editing. (Read: refining your stream-of-passionate-consciousness into something more easily digestible.)
As you write your stories, allow yourself to shine through them. Better said: as you write your stories, tell your stories. They mean something to you. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t feel the urge to write them at all.
You tell your stories, dear storyteller. If someone else is doing it, their name should be on your books. That’s the truth. So, when you sit down to tell your stories, remember that you make all the decisions. If it’s through the eyes of a character (first-person), you control what they see and why. If it’s not through the eyes of a character… then just write like you. Just tell the story, storyteller.
I love you all, and have an awesome day!
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