Success factors of Storytelling (Part 3): Exploring the “HOW”

This is the third instalment of the “Success Factors of Storytelling” series. You can find the first and second instalment here and here, respectively.

We have explored the reasons for writing the story and analysed the elements that readers find interesting when reading stories. In this article, we are going to explore the following questions:

HOW would I want my story to reach out to my readers?

For this questions, there are several factors that a writer needs to consider:

  • Genres: First and foremost, we have to look at the genres, just like films.  As writers, we need to decide on the genres first. This is because genres set the mood, which is the next element we will discuss. But before then, let’s look at how the types of genres determine the story development. While as writers, we may often frown on stereotyping stories in the same way that people are stereotyped, it ‘s unavoidable to avoid all forms of stereotyping.  If it’s a mystery thriller, the story cannot be too light-hearted, unless we want to add comical elements into the story, like “Monk” the TV series, where humour is injected intermittently to spice up the drama. Similarly, we do not see much action or thrilling scenes in romance novel, because it doesn’t fit the expectations of the readers. All of us have expectations about what to expect from a story or a film after reading a synopsis or watching a trailer (although we shouldn’t!). Come to think of it, writing a novel that switches genre midway during the story is interesting, such as the film “Rec“, which switches from a documentary film into a horror visual feast midway through the film.
  • Mood: After selecting the genre, a writer would need to select the mood for the story. The mood of the story will probably fluctuate if we choose to chart them out but on the whole, the mood level varies accordingly to the genres that we choose. For example, a romantic comedy will most probably infuse more humour into the story than say, a horror tale of eight strangers stranded in a motel along a quiet highway. Although we have lesser control over the mood of the story than we often imagine, there’s still a certain degree of control that we have over them. For example, we can add conflicts and altercations into a romantic comedy where tensions run high as the couple rides the highs and downs of emotional turmoil and upheavals of a romantic relationships and/or marriage.
  • Narrative, descriptive or brief:  A narrative, descriptive and brief story formats are very different, although some of us would feel that they are the same. Most stories strike a balance between the three, although there are some where one or two of the three may take up a substantial portion of the story. Consider Agatha Christie‘s mystery novels. It’s a mix of narrative and descriptive style, with the former having a higher proportion as dialogue is the main engine that drives the interrogation processes, which in turn thrust the story forward to an often interesting and satisfying conclusion. “The Lord of the Rings”  is a novel which is filled with detailed descriptions of places, such as Middle Earth, interspersed with dialogues between the various characters. Incidentally, the trilogy also plots a man’s journey from adolescence to adulthood, a concept popularised by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces“. Brief stories refer to novels with numerous short chapters of 2-8 pages each. There are writers who adopt such writing style in recent years, specifically in thriller and suspense novel and the more popular ones include James Patterson and Dean Koontz.
  • Length of story: In composition writing, writers have minimal control over how much details they are able to put in but then again, they are still able to control the length of the story by controlling and determining the plot. With short writing, writers need to know how much they have to say and how. If they have much to say, they would have to use descriptive paragraph and if they have not much to say, dialogues may be a better tool to move the story forward.  For novel writing,  there are more leeway and control for writers. Regardless of the type of story-writing involved, a writer should have a basic idea of the length of story and how it’s going to end. It need not be concrete and writers can and should improvise along the way. Nevertheless, a good grasp of how the story should develop is important in creating and crafting a great tale in the initial stages.
  • Pace of story: Besides the length of the story, the pacing of the story is also important. Although we are individuals of habit, it is human nature to love variety. And a shift in story pacing is important to sustain readers’ interest in the continual development of the story. Adding a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapters also helps in building excitement and suspense for the story. For cliff-hangers, the varieties are endless. For composition or short story writing, the pace can be controlled through a calculated and measured use of paragraphing and dialogue.  The opening paragraph of a story is an important tool to start the pace of the story and writers should be discerning in creating this. Starting the story with an ongoing dialogue and beginning the first paragraph with the narrow escape of an individual all serve to interest and sustain the reader’s interest in the story.

The elements above are a few important tools that writers can use to develop the structure of the story and interest the readers. There are many more literary devices that writers can use.  Mastering the above elements first will enable anyone to be a proficient writer. As one reads and writes more, one will gain the experiences to be a prolific writer over time.

As writers, we need to be patient. Writing skills are developed over time. Understand what readers are looking for and how , as writers, we are able to deliver our stories in words to them. It is an art form that  – over time and with consistent practice – we will definitely master.

Let’s continue here.


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