Yesterday I offered up a rather long-winded rant on the importance of understanding the core idea of our stories, and how that understanding bestows the power to push the story to a higher level of effectiveness and reader resonance.
The post generated some fascinating responses (click HERE t0 read the post if you missed it, or even read it again, and then scroll down for the comments… feel free to add your own, too), including one of the most thoughtful and powerful reader comments I’ve received since launching this website.
So on point, in fact, that I’ve decided to run that comment here as a guest post. The writer is Bruce H. Johnson, who operates a great writing site called Free Spirit Universe, where he’s in the middle of a terrific series entitled “Tech Writer to Fiction Writer” (he’s on Part 7, but the others are listed for easy access). I highly recommend this material.
Bruce and I are singing the same tune, but this isn’t a mutual back-scratch today. In fact, he doesn’t even know I’m using his comment for today’s Storyfix post. Fact is, the guy is worth reading, because he’s interpreting the very fluid and less-than-precise act of writing a story through the eyes of an engineer, assigning sequence and structure and mission.
If that’s sounds familiar to you Storyfix readers, then you know why I admire what this guy is up to.
Craftsmanship isn’t everything. Craftsmanship is having the details/fundamentals down so thoroughly they appear effortless.
I played the violin for many years in my youth. Ever listen to a virtuoso of any music? Perfectly in tune (if the music demanded), never misses a note, perfect tempo and the lot.
There are tons of technically-perfect artists. On the other hand, there are very few who can touch our hearts to laugh, cry and give us a powerful emotional experience. Those who can have found the concept underneath the music, character (for actors) or the story itself.
As Larry said, you’ve got to find and have that sky-high concept at the very beginning before you even start practicing the piece.
You’ve got to have the best craftsmanship possible to convey that emotion and concept — but without hitting us over the head with the methodology. When you investigate a virtuoso, you find he’s practiced fundamentals probably 90% of his time even before he spends 10% working on the actual part or piece. Now he can deliver the emotional experience.
The better the artist, the more picky he is about what he’s delivering — he wants a worthwhile impact, not just “that was pretty” or “he did a good job.” They are (and you should be) after delivering the highest possible concept.
Listen again or watch again some artist/actor who is acknowledged as a true virtuoso. The craftsmanship and fundamentals are obvious, but you really don’t notice them because you’re pulled into their world and get that emotion and concept they are conveying.
Who’s really interested in reading or hearing about Howdy-Doody on Mars? If it’s your grandkid, that’s fine — go for it. You’ll “sell” at least one copy.
If you don’t have that sky-high goal, that idea or concept which just might touch people’s hearts, all your writing will doing is letting your readers listen in on the practice session where the virtuoso is practicing scales, harmonics (stringed-instrument term), types of vibrato and so forth. Interesting, but not what the virtuoso provides his audience.
You’ve got to be a virtuoso. Have the fundamentals (Six Core Competencies) down so pat you don’t even have think of them during your writing. That requires tons of hard work and practice. Then, when you find and develop that beyond-the-sky concept or idea for a story, you can appear to deliver it almost effortlessly because your fundamentals are in. Your readers won’t notice your fundamentals or methodology (unless they’re writers, too, then it will probably be on their second or third read), they’ll simply get a profound emotional experience on something worthwhile — that underlying concept.
It doesn’t have to be a “beautiful” concept, either. Many of Shakespeare’s most enduring works are tragedies, such as Romeo and Juliet.
Learn and practice your Six Core Competencies. Study. Practice more. Now, work out 5, 10, 15 or more high-level, worthwhile concepts that are worthy of all the work you will be putting into the delivery of that concept.
To get published is hard work. There’s plenty of mediocre stuff available that did manage to get published. Some even make best-sellers — for a week.
If you’re going to pour your attention, learning, practice and hours/days/months into a story, make it worth it to start. Get that underlying concept, then you too can be a virtuoso.
The issue of concept generation and worthiness is a critical and challenging realm to explore for the serious storyteller. Which is why my next post will continue to focus here, with a deeper look at a question we all ask ourselves — some of us beat outselves up with it — and one that I get asked frequently: how do we know if our story idea is good enough? Stay tuned.