Storytelling as art

It’s a funny thing, but I wonder just how much people think of the artistry of narrative.

My mood has been brought on by the re-release of Planescape Torment on PC and various tablet devices. For those of you too young to know, Planescape is probably the greatest narrative role playing game ever committed to a digital medium; it has a rich setting, deep and interesting characters, an enthralling plot, and it holds everything secondary to the service of the experience. Gameplay is less important than merely playing the game and finding the stories within stories scattered all over it.

I hold it up as a work of art; the narrative equivalent of a Picasso, or a Dali. It has hidden depths and meanings, and the only way to truly absorb it all is to get lost in it.

I care little for the great works of literature, whose accolades come from highbrow academia. Art demands that we feel something by experiencing it. The masterpieces of narrative are not the perfectly written novels chosen by professors. They’re stories from the heart and in the bone, that grip our minds and lead our dreams.

As artists, we should never ask for perfection. Let us ask instead for soul.


I’m getting faster

My fingers fly, and the keyboard rattles out a clicking tune. Music to my ears. Soft and gentle and progressive, as I do it every day.

Of course, what I produce doesn’t really seem like quality. The principle of writing a thousand words a day does seem to be very highly based on Nanowrimo. It’s all down to practice, isn’t it? There’s no time for editing, and so the brain becomes used to just telling the story any way possible. Editing comes later, when we’re rested and comfortable.

Now is the time for breakneck speed. Write like the wind! Write as much as you can. Let the story advance however it seems sensible. At some point, you have to trust your sense of narrative structure and just go with it. If it turns out to be a bad idea, you can always write some more.

Someone actually asked me today: how do you swap between stories? As if it is difficult to hold more than one narrative in your head at once. In reality, people do this all day every day, because the world is made of stories. The only difference is that mine are more internal and creative.

Today I wrote 1010 words.


On hooks and stories

I missed another daily post! Dammit all to hell. This one will be longer to make up for it.

I’ve been reflecting on what I consider to be good among my own writing. The problem is, the stuff that I think of as being real quality is fan fiction, and not really something I can spread around too far. It exists, though, and I’m glad I wrote it – even if much of it is basically porn without plot.

The secret, you see, is that writing well isn’t actually that hard. Producing quality prose is largely a matter of practice, and getting to grips with the mechanics of storytelling¬†as a craft. What’s really difficult is coming up with a compelling story, and sparking enough imagination in a reader’s mind that they desperately want to continue because they must know what happens next.

It’s hard because there isn’t really any kind of skill you can apply to it. You can either write narrative that sinks into the mind and grips the audience, or you can’t. I know this because I know of several writer friends, those that I highly respect, who can produce excellent prose… but their stories lack some indefinable quality that hooks the reader. I don’t believe that study of story structure or the Hero’s Journey can really help, either. There is a flow and a rhythm to narrative that seems indefinable sometimes, like music.

That hook is almost more important than actual quality work. Readers will forgive many sins if the premise is sufficiently promising.

That said, a good premise is easily ruined by truly terrible writing. Bad prose is an effective barrier to the reader truly engaging with a story. But it’s a truth that should be acknowledged more often that merely serviceable prose is good enough for a story premise that really wows the reader, whereas excellent prose can’t save a premise that’s pass√© and boring.

For the record, I’m pretty sure my ability to write a good premise is only average at best.