Devouring Stories

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Last week we started talking about things writers can do to move their careers forward when the next step seems impossibly far off.

Sometimes ‘making it as a writer’ seems like it’s full of huge, gigantic leaps forward: finishing a book, finding an agent, getting published, working full-time as a writer, earning this award, being asked to speak there—the milestones seem impossibly far apart and way too difficult to accomplish.

So, I think it’s time to start talking about the small steps.

The little things we can do every day to deepen our understanding of this craft.

Time to pay attention to the little things, my friends, because believe it or not, those milestones aren’t the building blocks of your career. Sure, they look fancy and they’re fun plaques to have up on the wall. But there is a whole lot of in-between steps before you can reach them.

We’re here to talk about the in-between. The practical.

And today’s practical?

Devouring story.

I’m not here to tell you to read War and Peace or 100 books in a year. But as writers, we need story. Not just our own stories, because we all know how we get caught up in the complexities and frustrations of our stories, and, unfortunately, we all have our blind spots.

Writers need story. I write for a radio drama. I spent all Sunday last week binge-watching The Mandalorian. I listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, I’ve watched movies specifically for work to better understand story structure, and I have started to be able to predict what comes next in the movie theater simply because I know where we are in the story.

Writers. Need. Story.

We need to analyze story, we need to pick apart our favorite books and movies and video games and graphic novels and see what makes them tick. We need to be that irritating person in the movie theater who leans over and whispers, “Yep. ‘All is Lost’ moment. Right on cue.”

I am not a fan of dictating exactly how anyone needs to ingest story. Books, movies, TV, video games, radio. It doesn’t matter. But as a writer, you need story. Not to listen to mindlessly, but to analyze, dissect, learn from.

So next time you want to take another step and or do the next right thing, watch a favorite movie. TV show. Pick a story, and grab your notebook. Find the ‘All is Lost’ moment. The quarter mark, where the upside-down world begins. The catalyst. Pick the story to pieces and see how it works, what theme the writer used. Write a pitch for it.

The more you devour story, the better you will understand it.

What are some of your favorite stories? Tell me about them in the comments!

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