Many writers fear story theory. "It will damage my natural talent!" they cry. And I understand entirely. As I return to writing fiction again with a decade of story theory in my head, how will my 'formal' knowledge influence how I write now? Am I ruined?
Perhaps more importantly, how do I feel about the things I've said to aspiring writers on this blog and in my paid work as a story consultant now I'm trying to write under the influence of this kind of knowledge myself?
The Big Idea
I think the main thing that hits me is that my knowledge of story theory doesn't impact my early writing process at all. The fundamental fact that kinda undermines all theories is this: do you have a killer idea for a story? If you don't have a great story idea, or characters with compelling conflicts, all the knowledge in the world is absolutely no use to you. I guess this is why so few story analysts are writers of fiction themselves: they don't have any winning story ideas.
Write it... Or Analyse it?
And the first thing you must do when you have a story idea is let it pour out of you. If it feels good, don't stand there thinking about it - get deeply immersed in it! This is the joy of writing - the creativity, the world you build in your mind, the imagination and escapism - it's all brilliant, and I don't think I stress strongly enough in my story seminars or books the importance of just being yourself and getting stuck in. This is your story, you must draw it from your own heart, and the very last thing you should do is let someone else get their hands dirty in amongst your natural ability at this stage.
I feel my analytical work makes it seem like developing a story is a very formal - almost scientific - process, but it really isn't and it really shouldn't be. Just write. Write lots. Get stuck in and follow your heart. It doesn't matter if you throw away 90% of what you write, but write you must if you are going to find out if your stories work or not.
I get lots of inspiration and new ideas from getting into the detail, so I just write - without editing and without polish - in order to get deeper into the characters and possibilities. I accept that I will not keep much of this rough content, but I get a great deal of progress out of it. Then it's back up to the top level analysis view to see how things are shaping up. I think my analysis work might encourage people to spend too much time thinking and not enough time writing. Juuuust get stuck in!
Productivity - the Key Differentiator
Too many writers wait for inspiration. These people rarely become professional. Successful writers work very, very hard to dig for inspiration by forcing themselves to write at the coal-face every day, even on those days when they have no inspiration at all. The successful writers work the hardest, in a very real sense, and I have no doubt that sheer dogged determination to keep delivering a word count and to hit deadlines is a massive differentiator in those writers who can:
a) find inspiration when none is arriving by itself; and
b) be productive enough to produce a book a year and thereby turn professional.
So my advice is this: write from the heart; write lots and let it flow. Then re-write using your head, your story theory knowledge and the dustbin. Be confident in yourself - there is no 'right and wrong' - if you write from the heart you will be fulfilled, irrespective of commercial success. Yes, learn the craft of story in order to help optimise your ideas and speed your process, not to dictate your ideas or BE your process.
So, what am I writing?
Thank you for asking... I'm currently writing my third humorous book. I've never really spoken about my humorous writing on this blog but if you are interested to see if a story theorist can actually write, here is the link to my first book of humorous tales. This book got me my first proper publishing deal. This is a fine book, in my opinion, and judging by the reviews, people do seem to like it. I do hate marketing so make the most of this - I don't plan to do it very often!
OCEAN BOULEVARD (Amazon- UK - Hard copy and Kindle)
OCEAN BOULEVARD (Amazon.com Kindle store)
"David Baboulene is a seriously funny man with a great gift for storytelling. One of the funniest books I have ever read." City Talk.
I hope you love it! Feel free to let me know what you think!