“And then what happened?”

“And then what happened?”

 “And then Jack Sparrow killed the sea monster! The one making the bubbles under the water.”

“How’d he kill it?”

“With his sword.”

 “And then?”

 “That was all. He sailed away in his boat. He had things to do.”

 “That’s it?”

 “Yep.”

 “Good story.”

 “Thanks, Mom.”

I’ve recently gotten into the habit of asking my son to tell me a story at bedtime instead of the other way round. I have to say, for someone who’s still learning to read, he tells a pretty good tale.

But isn’t that the point? People have been telling stories long before we started writing them down. Storytelling is an essential part of the human experience.  Books are just one way of telling stories. We tell them through film, photography, music, and so many other mediums.

The point is the story.

“And then what happened?”

It’s the universal question with infinite answers. When I was studying linguistics, we studied animal communication of many sorts; but while animals may communicate, only human beings have the capacity for creative language. Whale sounds are beautiful and evocative, but there is no epic whale poetry. Bumblebees can communicate the exact location of a pollen source to their hive, but they can’t tell you this funny story about their brother-in-law.

What does this have to do with writing?

Everything.

How much time do you spend on your story? Have you fallen in love with a character or a turn of phrase, but don’t really know what to do with either? Do you have an intricately drawn setting, but aren’t sure exactly what’s going to happen there?

One thing that a lot of writers don’t do (but should) is timeline.  Just write out a calendar for your story and then think.  Is it logical for the characters that met a month ago to already be in love?  Maybe it is, within the context of your story.  What action is happening to drive the plot forward?  Are you dropping early hints about the conflict that keep your tension levels high?  If you’re not, readers may lose interest.

Do you view your chapters as small stories within themselves?  How about individual scenes?  Remember, the point is to keep people reading.  Every time they get to a stopping point (a scene break, a chapter break) you want them to keep turning that page because they just have to know…

“And then what happened?”

My son asked me this question for years at bedtime, and now I’m the one asking it. I ask him. I ask myself when I sit down to write. I ask my friends when they send me a great story I want to read more of. It’s all about the story.

When was the last time you read a beautiful piece of writing, but lost interest when the story wasn’t compelling? What will you put up with from a piece of writing if you get hooked on the plot?

Thanks for reading,

Elizabeth

6 Comments

  1. I think what you said at the end was the most compelling or sparking for me. “What will you put up with from a piece of writing if you get hooked on a plot”, and sadly, we often have to “put up” with a lot we don’t want to.

    I plan on buying both your books here shortly, Jacqueline Lichtenberg led me to you and INSISTED you were required reading. And I know when I’ve found somebody worthy to listen to.

    I love your idea of turning it around and having your son tell you a story. I home school and love that freedom I have with the kids. We write stories as a big part of schooling, stories stories stories. I’m not an expert, but doing that helps me reinforce all that I’m learning. I always tell the kids, “when you can teach what you know “simply”, then you truly know it. It reminds me a lot of the “query process” in fact. It’s a lot easier to accurately encapsulate the heart of a novel into two paragraphs when you know the story intimately. At least for the novice query Writer.

  2. Oh, I really hope you enjoy them! Thanks for commenting, and I’m also a homeschooler. I love the freedom to experiment with different curriculum ideas and, since I have a very creative kid, homeschooling definitely fits our family.

    And I love what you said about retelling and narration. That’s something I already emphasize and practice with my son. And he’s just in first grade! But, it’s an important skill and a lot harder than it looks.

    Thanks for reading and tell Jacqueline thanks for the rec!

    E

  3. I’m sure I’ll devour them. I have three in school, soon to be FOUR. I’ve devised a domino effect process to make it so I can still write AND school. It requires discipline, but every addict finds a way. I guess it’s like a step program where my sixth grader schools my fourth grader, my fourth grader schools my first grader, my first grader schools the kindergartener. And it all serves the mastery learning concept I push. Addicts are clever, aren’t they?

    • That’s a fantastic system! It reminds me of my great aunt, who taught in a one room school house when she first started teaching. She said it was one of the most rewarding experiences she’d ever had.

      I’m still amazed though. I only have one and it’s a challenge to find time to write!

  4. Let me tell you, those one room school houses were the gold mines of learning. Mastery learning at every level with that environment where all teach all and teaching is learning and learning is teaching! It was a real ISSUE for a while, trying to juggle it, I was like, this is INSANITY. I committed it to fervent prayer, lol, “God, come on, you gotta help me out here!” And one night, it POPPED in my head and it was a suck in your breath kind of moment!

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