In the creation and evangelizing of my story development model, the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling, I like to tell people that there is nothing in the realm of writing fiction that doesn’t fall into one of these six buckets.
Why? First of all, because it’s true. But also, when you deal in such absolutes, some people go straight into challenge mode. They need to make you wrong, to be smarter than you are.
And that can be great fun. Sometimes even enlightening.
While there are multitudes of folks smarter than me, I’ve yet to hear someone come up with an aspect of the writing experience that doesn’t fall into one of those six buckets. Sure, you can dispute labels and combine them as you please, but when you break it all down this is all there is.
But lately I’ve been wondering… could there be a seventh core competency?
Maybe. And if it qualifies, it’s the most important skill of all.
Reviewing the Six Core Competencies
There are a dozen or so places to click on this website that will tell you what the six core competencies are. But to save time, allow me to review. They are:
– story sequence (structure)
– scene elements and construction
– writing voice
In no particular order, by the way. You need them all to be solid if you hope to write a novel or a screenplay that is of saleable quality.
Leave out only one, and your manuscript will get a “nice try, you came close,” and a rejection slip.
So what could possibly still be on the table?
I have a condo in the Phoenix area. Being an ex-minor league pitcher, I remain a rabid baseball fan who soaks up as much spring training as possible. Every year I see hundreds of sturdy young men take the field in hopes of making the major league roster.
Only 25 break camp with that particular hat, the others heading for places like Walla Walla and Dubuque.
Here’s what’s metaphorically fascinating and relevant about that phenomenon: with perhaps a couple of exceptions, every athlete on that field arrives with the basic core competencies of the game of baseball well in command.
Many are worthy of being published… but only that analogous 25 break camp with a contract.
Could there be a seventh core competency that makes it so?
As in baseball, or any other field of human performance, getting published is a competition. Your basic mastery of the requisite skills is only the ante-in, the invitation to attend spring training.
Once there, you need to be better than the other guy. You need to have something about your game that sticks out, that is not just good, but exceptional.
Writers who consistently make the best seller lists, who make a career out of writing fiction, do one thing better than the rest of us. You could argue that writers who simply get published in the face of incredible odds and stiff competition, do the same.
And that just might be because of the seventh core competency.
It is this: they put it all together with a value-adding panache and intuitive insight that defies definition or description. With high art. They get it, and they deliver it with a distinctive voice and storytelling sensibility and exceeds the sum of its six core parts.
So as you strive to master the six core competencies, as you absolutely should if you hope to get that spring training invitation, bear in mind that doing so is only your admission ticket.
What must be summoned forth from there cannot be taught, as can the six core competencies. It must be discovered within you.
The seventh core competency is the elusive magic that happens when art collides with hard-won talent.
Until you master the six basic core competencies of storytelling, it will remain dormant, a potential unrealized, if it is even there at all.
There is only one way to find out. And it has six components.