This article was written by author Shirley Meier
There is one thing every writer eventually develops. Story-sense. It is a superpower to some people.
Technically, it is a couple of things combined. One is the possible length of the written story, and two is an understanding of what may or should happen next. This second one can, occasionally, be subverted by throwing in a plot twist and then having to write your way out of it.
Stories have weight and a natural internal possible length. For instance, “Premise: girl is sent to grandma’s house. Important description: she wears a red hood. Circumstance: she meets the wolf who finds out where she’s headed. Circumstance: she dawdles along the way giving the wolf time to run ahead and swallow grandma and put on her clothes. (In some cases, there is an extra circumstance where Red is told to burn her clothes because she won’t need them.) Circumstance: Red doesn’t recognize the wolf and is swallowed with grandma. Resolution: forester cuts the wolf open with an ax, rescuing Red and grandma. There are only a few extra circumstances that can be crammed into this story to make it longer but not many, unless you change the initial premise. In only one case have I read a novelization of this, and the initial premise is vastly different that the simple, initial story.
Some stories are by nature short, and the idea can only carry three, four, five hundred words. Then, you have other ideas that require a ‘holy-hackin’ double hockey-sticks this is long’ of words to tell the story correctly. Or rather, induce a story in the head of your reader rather than merely telling what happened.
Telling what happened is reportage and journalism. Inducing the ‘movie in the mind’ is the story-teller’s art. When people say ‘That’s evocative…”, they are correct because the author produced the requisite number of words to ‘evoke’ the images in the reader, but that’s another article.
To get back to the idea of story-sense… Sometimes it is annoying to watch a show with a writer because a moment or two before something happens on screen, they often say ‘I’ll bet that ‘x’ happens…” because the story up till now has been laid out and there are only a limited number of possible ‘next things’ that can happen. If you are good with characters and plot, you can often then figure out what is next.
At the moment, I am approximately 30,000 words into a story that I thought would take closer to 90,000, but that is because the problems my character has keep getting subverted by the very tech that I postulated that drives the story. It will take another 20,000 words to resolve the issue, even with the ghost in the machine literally giving me short cuts.
Many authors don’t realize that they run their initial ideas through their story-sense before they sit down to write them, not realizing that they even have a story-sense. But everyone has one. If you violate what people understand as a story, you’ll lose them as readers, either in annoyance or boredom.
Story-sense is something that both writers and readers share. Readers may not know it, but it is what they are using when they declare ‘That’s a good story!’.
Writers and their fans have an interlocking sense of story and how it should be told. That’s why their readers are fans of their work.
This sense can be cultivated both as a reader and as a writer, through practice. Read stories, write stories. You’ll develop your super power!
Shirley Meier has written numerous articles and stories for Amazing. Her latest is the fourth book in her Eclipse Court series – Scholar’s Run.