The Superwriter's Four I's of Great Storytelling
By Jennifer Turner
Superman sees through lead, Batman has the biggest bag of techno-gadgets in the business, and Wonder Woman fights for justice with a few, well placed, bits of jewelry. Super Writers see epic adventures in the smallest details, develop their individual tricks and techniques, and with a few, well placed words and phrases, make the intangible, tangible. To be a Super Writer, however, one must first understand the nature of their power.
Let's face it, without inspiration, our muse is as exciting as the Hulk on a good hair day. Our muse just sits there, brooding and inscrutable, big and well . . . hulking, but overall, dull and useless. Until suddenly, inspiration strikes, goosing the muse into action, shaking the earth with the pounding thunder of creativity.
Inspiration is a tricky thing, however. One simply cannot say "Ah-ha!" and begin writing at warp speed. There must be a sound basis to pursue this idea. We must ask: is it unique? is it interesting? will I be able to sustain this premise for an entire novel or is it better shared through a shorter medium? and most importantly, am I passionate about this idea?
If there's no passion this idea is likely not an option worth pursuing. Published authors are often offered ideas from non-writers. They are inspired and believe the idea so fascinating and titilating, the author will be honored to write the book. The author usually responds with a chuckle and a shake of the head. "Write someone else's book? I'll never live long enough to pursue my own ideas." In this regard, we are lucky. Not many other professions create so many options, you can dispose of one simply because it's lacking emotional appeal-or passion.
Choose to expand on the ideas that grab you where you live, let the others percolate somewhere out of sight-in a folder, in a computer file-until the day the idea, perhaps combined with another, has the power of high voltage gamma rays.
Okay, you've chosen to work on that inspired story. It's timely, unique, and you're passionate about the idea. This is going to be one heck of a ride! Your intuition is kicked into high gear-you're operating on feeling, on the emotional impact that passion has on your priorities. Suddenly, you don't care if the Tazmanian Devil erupted in your living room, it doesn't matter if the kids are playing with Thing One and Thing Two-you are on a roll!
But wait, what's that? An evil, ugly force driving away your ability to create. It's taller than your muse, it's faster than your typing speed, and it can leap pages in a single bound. It's your internal editor. Where's the kryptonite when you need it? Believe it or not, it's lurking inside you-it's that ringing bell that jangles when something is wrong, but performs with symphonic beauty when all is well. Listen for the tone, not the internal editor-that's the bad guy, the one trying to kidnap your muse, tie him to the railroad tracks of your plot, and run him down with a freight train of grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
That first draft is an exclusive party. Only your muse and intuition are invited. Who cares how many mistakes you make? This isn't going to be published as is, there is no one watching over your shoulder saying, "you missed a spot." It's a joyous time of creativity.
If you're one of those extraordinarily disciplined souls who want every paragraph perfect before moving onto the next and end with a complete manuscript that needs no revisions, count yourself lucky and blessed. For most of the writing community, however, writing is a struggle to balance creativity and technical know-how. Of course, one is just as important as the other, but to focus on technical know-how at the muse stage, can be as frustrating as getting Superman to wear a kryptonite necklace.
"Show, don't tell." We hear that phrase as often as Captain Marvel hears the word "Shazam!" It's more than a mantra, more than a symbol of mystical, magical transformation-it's the heart and soul of great storytelling. Implication defines this notorious phrase.
To imply, rather than state, is a marvelous tool. It lends depth, humor, and realism to our characters. By implying a reaction, emotion, or description, rather than stating the facts, we must dig deeper into our characters, understand each of their personalities, and choose the words that are part of that character's lexicon. For Example:
Buffy snapped her gum and eyed the guy in the red cape. "Where can I get me some?"
"Jinkies, Buffy. The last thing the universe needs is offspring from that union." Thelma shoved her glasses higher and dragged Buffy back into the mall.
Above, it's implied, rather than stated, that Buffy finds the guy in the red cape attractive, followed by the implication that Thelma believes their children would be dangerous. Through this type of writing, you show much more than the words tell. We can infer above that Buffy is a bit of flirt, a little boy crazy. The guy in the red cape must be good looking. Thelma is more straight-laced and disapproves, likely based on past experiences. It's shown, in this short exchange, that they are friends with differing priorities, but enjoy each other's company.
Great storytellers, such as Stephen King, fill their books with catch-phrases and anecdotes that build rich worlds for the reader, a hint at the life these characters have lived off the page. Through these word choices, these small revelations, you'll give the reader a story they won't want to put down, and won't soon forget.
"With great power, comes great responsibility." If Spiderman never used his powers, the bad guys would get away. If Superman took the bus, instead of flying, chances are, he'd miss saving the day. A writer who doesn't write, doesn't get published.
Writing the words, implementing the power of your muse, your inspiration, through implication, can help you achieve success-whatever type of success you choose. This may mean simply completing a book, or hitting the New York Times bestseller list. Setting goals, whichever ones they are, is the first step in implementing all you've learned.
Be specific, but be realistic. If the goal is to write every day, take the concrete steps you need to make that happen. Prepare ahead of time, set the alarm on a clock or your watch, warn your family or friends that this time is off limits. Whichever process works best for you, follow through.
Prolific writers are drawn to their books, unable to resist immersing themselves in the world they're creating. By taking the steps above, you'll find yourself caught in the same hypnotic spell. In fact, you may find it's going to take a heck of a lot more than the Green Goblin of real life or the Lex Luther of distractions to drag you away.
Remember the Super Writer's Four I's of Storytelling: inspiration, intuition, implication, and implementation the next time you flip on the computer, click open that pen, or sharpen that pencil-you just might discover the power inside you.
© J.R. Turner, 2005