Listening To Your Story

Now that you’ve got yourself a nice, long draft, go back and read it. Really read it. Maybe even aloud. And listen. (At some point I’m going to write a definitive post about why listening is a storyteller’s most crucial skill. Just you wait.) Don’t worry about all the stuff that isn’t working or that you already know is going to get cut. Read it and listen. Read it slowly. One sentence at a time. And after each sentence, ask yourself if there’s anything MORE you can add to it. Are there more details you can remember now that you’ve spent more time with your story. Is there another aspect of the other character(s) in your story that you can add? Can you characterize something else about their background? Can you add context that will help us understand their actions and/or motivations better? Have you been true to the moment itself? That is, have you described or characterized them as you would have in that moment? Have you explained how your descriptions or characterizations might have changed since, and why they might have changed? Have you given us everything we need to know to understand what each of the characters wants in the story? Have you given us enough to understand what’s at stake for the characters (or at least for you) in the story? Have you given us enough information (details, actions, descriptions, etc.) to understand how the conflict/tension has been resolved or reconciled by the end of the story?

Sentence by sentence. Listen to yourself. Try to actually hear your own story.

Try to resist the urge to choose the right description between two possible descriptions. Same for characterizations. The same for conflicts. And details. If you can’t decide between multiple options, that usually indicates that either you don’t yet fully understand your own story (which I would argue is a moment of insight for you within this process) or, if both options seem apt, there’s likely some tension in the story that you might want to explore more fully. If you’re not getting it by now, I’m encouraging you to look for every opportunity to write more.

I like to think of this component of the drafting process as a poorly disguised strategy to get you creating ideas for more stories in the future. And also to keep you writing. To cultivate the habit of putting memory and thought to the screen (or paper, if you’re old school). And to practice the joys of drafting momentum. Writing is draft, at least for me, is already hard enough. The self-doubt. The distractions tempting you away from your screen. Losing focus on the narrative and descriptions in your story. Not knowing when to start, or where you’re headed, or how you’re going to bring this to a close. The wondering whether or not it’s okay to tell this story. Or if you have enough courage and strength. Doubting that you have the right images for this story. Dreading the thought of hearing your own voice narrate this script. There are sooo many things that can make writing insufferable. The only antidote I’ve ever found is to sit down, start writing, continuing to write (even if it’s terrible) until you begin to see another sentence forming as you’re finishing the current one. Your thinking starts to get out ahead of your writing. The periods at the end of sentences start flying by like mile markers on the highway. Or like lines in the sidewalk of a long walk with yourself. And then you sort of trip over a really good line. Or just the right word. Sometimes it’s magic.

Is it hard to your to read your own story and actually hear it? What’s the most surprising thing you’ve realized while working on a draft of one of your stories? Feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂