creative writing

Yes, there are stories to tell

Recently, I heard another author claiming there are no more the stories to be told. All the stories that could be told have been written. All that’s left are changes to the characters and the scenery. Authors who make this claim support their argument by listing a few basic plots all stories use.

Many stories have the same basic plots because they follow standard templates such as the hero’s journey or “save the cat” with its planned story beats. Yes, following templates like these will result in all the stories being told.

If a writer wants to write a different story, they need to be creative and ignore templates. This comes with risk as readers may reject something different from the template driven stories they are used to reading. But, I think this is a small risk.

I’m always asking readers what they are reading. While some read the same authors (who use the same templates), the majority enjoy finding something different. When they do, they stay with that author. I think the best way for an author to stand out and be successful is to write something that is not like everyone else’s story.

I’ve blogged about this topic before. But, I’m writing about it again to encourage writers to reject the well worn path of standard templates. Stop writing the story that everyone has already told. Like Robert Frost wrote:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Writing by Templates

Here are two ways to write a story:

  1. The writer creates characters, action, and an environment based on how they think the story should unfold.
  2. The writer follows a template, created by someone else, that dictates who the characters are, when action takes place, and most times what the ending will be. Examples of templates are Save the Cat and The Hero’s Journey.

In June 2019, I read a blog by Janice Hardy titled The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work.” Janice was a guest blogger on Anne R. Allen’s blogsite.

Janice wrote, “When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.”

I agree with Janice. Yes, it is easy to follow a template, like following a paint-by-numbers kit. However, the writer must “. . . hit specific turning points at specific times, even if they don’t fit . . .” as the template demands. By avoiding a template, a writer can tell the story as they think it should be written.

Writing is a creative process and I think using a template diminishes the creativity. However, a writer can write and sell more books by following a template. It is faster and readers recognize the formalistic style. Therein lies the decision.

To write for quality or quantity. If a writer’s primary income comes from novels, many feel they must write for quantity and follow a template. This is not necessarily true.

There are many successful writers who do not follow a template. They write a story they feel is their story and not someone else’s. Whichever way a writer chooses, it should be their story and not someone else’s.

How to Write a Novel Using the Modular Form

Some writers sit down and write a novel chapter by chapter to the end. Some writers find this discipline difficult to achieve and may never write their novel because of it.

An alternative to chapter by chapter is to write individual scenes that could be placed somewhere in the novel. By a scene, I mean a moment of dialogue, a dramatic or adventurous event, or anything representing a unique segment of the story.

The scenes do not need to be in any specific order in the story. Nor do they need to involve characters. They can be long or short and do not need a beginning or an end. There is only one requirement.

Scenes should contain some type of an “arc” meaning a rise in action or dialogue, the climax, and an aftermath. The arc does not need to be dramatic, but the climax should be some important knowledge revealed or a change in a character or environment. After writing several scenes, the writer fits them into the story like puzzle pieces.

To create a flow and link the scenes, beginning and/or ending sentences may need to be rewritten. Mostly, the writer needs to create connecting passages that lead from one scene to the next. These passages should not have an arc, but give the reader a rest between scenes. As an example, they can show people moving across a landscape or thinking about what happened or setting up for the next scene.

Writing scenes provides freedom to change the story as needed by moving the scenes around to where they belong best. The writer will not see the story as a whole by looking at scenes, yet when put together they have a novel.

How to Self Edit (my method)

I have been through many drafts of my young adult, science fiction novel High School Rocket Science (For Extraterrestrial Use Only). (Yes, I’m advertising the book.) In what I hope will be my final draft, I developed a self-editing method that seems to work for me:

  1. After printing the novel, I use a pencil to mark changes chapter by chapter.
  2. As I finish a few chapters, I update each one in MS Word.
  3. I go through several slow reads of each chapter on the computer screen until I no longer find things to change.
  4. I review each chapter separately through MS Word’s Spelling & Grammar, Grammarly, and ProWritingAid. (The last two are by subscription.)

This self-editing method is a multi-dimensional way to help me find errors I missed in past edits. It lets me look at my novel in three different ways:

  • paper copy
  • computer screen
  • through a software program

This self-editing method is designed for final drafts. I previously had my novel edited by a critique group and I paid a developmental editor. I realize I am getting more benefit from my current editing method.

My error is that I should have completed editing using this method before having another person look at my novel. I feel the advice from the critique group and the paid editor has been wasted since I am changing their edits to fit the changes I am making.

At least I’ll know for my next novel.