Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Hear Success Stories

Free-form Friday

Aspiring writers are drawn to success stories, like moths to flames. And we're all guilty of a little twinge of jealousy that we aren't the subject of the story. But as inveterate optimists (what else can you call someone who devotes years to a single manuscript), we soak up the stories hoping that one day we will be the hero of a similar story.

So it's deeply ironic that we who are storytellers often fall prey to the tricks of our own trade when we hear these stories and afflict ourselves with unrealistic expectations. We hear, for example, of the writer who went from query to book deal in 37 days, note that our own queries have gone unanswered for more than 37 days, and conclude that we're not worthy.

Why do we do this? We forget that the foundation of the storyteller's art is to skip the boring bits. Advice about pacing, pithy dialog, and scenes ("in late, out early") all comes down to artfully avoiding the boring stretches that are an inevitable part of real life.

And how will you tell your success story? Fresh from the process of scrupulously scrubbing all the boring bits out of your manuscript will you say, "Then on the following Tuesday, I wrote 1673 words. But when I looked over the new material on Wednesday, I decided I needed to rework half of it so I didn't reach my new word count goal that day ..." No, you'll apply your craft and weave together a concise narrative of the highs and lows of the experience with a sprinkling of lessons learned. Above all, you will make it a story with protagonists, antagonists, try/fail cycles, a climax, and a denouement.


Because that's the essence of what you do as a storyteller.

The next time you hear a success story, remember that it is a story. Learn what you can from it, but don't compare it directly with your experience because you simply don't know all the boring bits that were skipped to make it a good story.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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