Is there anything more intoxicating than a great story?
And I'm not just talking about something written in a book or magazine. Have you ever been completely ensconced with a friend's story about something that happened to them on vacation? How about a simple episode of your favorite TV show? Ever get caught watching a movie on TV THAT YOU OWN ON DVD?
I'm guessing yes.
Do you know why, as a species we're so enthralled by the elements of a story?
Because it transports us. It gives our minds room to run. It stretches the boundaries of our imaginations to places we never thought possible. A story is magic.
Which brings me to a piece of, not writing advice per se, but more of an observation. No matter what your style, prose, vocabulary, pacing, or character-
Story trumps all.
Now some of you might say that the above list is the story, but I beg to differ. I believe story is the idea behind everything, the lowest level of the pyramid that everything else is built upon. The story is what happens. The story is the path on which your walk, it is your guide, your light across the water.
Some of you are looking at me with raised eyebrows. I can feel it. Your raised eyebrows. Okay.
So here's an example of what I mean. The story can usually be charted by its summary.
Hamlet: While son is away, murderous uncle kills father, claims throne as well as mother, usurping son's chances at his rightful place as ruler and king. (I know, really boiled down but hey, I don't have all night to break down the million plot points and facets of Shakespeare's genius.)
Jaws: Enormous shark decides to terrorize (and eat) the town folk of a small oceanside city.
Watership Down: Group of rabbits leave their warren on a bad omen and seek out a new home, far away across dangerous country.
Get the idea?
Story is the base hook that grabs our attention and holds it. The great ideas that are born from a creator's imagination are the sparks that ignite the rest of the terms we know so well: prose, pacing, character, etc.
There's a million different pieces of writing advice out there. Here's two that jump to the forefront of my brainpan: destroy adverbs and immolate passive voice. Yes, I agree with these 100%. I try to shy away from them as much as possible, but you know who doesn't? J.K. Rowling. Take a look at any of the Harry Potter series and you'll find it dripping with adverbs. Every other sentence is "was running" or "were talking". But you know what? It doesn't matter. Millions upon millions of readers devoured J.K.'s books, myself included, and you know why? Her story was transcendent. It was beautiful. It was epic and magical and mystical. It blew people's minds. Now not to say J.K. is a bad writer, she isn't at all, I'm pointing out the fact that story comes before everything else. Yes, you can have a ground shattering idea and still butcher it with horrible writing, but the story still stands out to me as the most important thing to begin with.
Without it you have some pretty words on paper, nothing more.
I know I comb my writing to make it better, as does my editor, but before I get to that point I make sure my story is original, gripping, and worth writing about.
That's where I start, and as long as I'm true to the story, everything else falls into place.
How about you?