All the Good Memories

One problem that older storytellers face is that the days they remember most fondly are in the past. The main reason that is a problem is the familiarity of much recent history. For example, a story about Vietnam protesters or civil rights pioneers may well be stirring, but readers have read or watched countless variants of that same tale. Have you really turned up new ground with your premise? If not, you may be writing for a very select group of readers—i.e., family members and friends willing to indulge you. 

A second major obstacle lies in the very nature of an older person’s telling old stories. In terms of plot structure, a novel needs to push forward into the future, because that is where the changes in a drama occur. Anytime a novel dwells too much in the past, the book comes to a standstill. Readers sit around waiting while the author rambles on about those days of yore with Bud and Nick and fighting forest fires. To the writer, those days may be the main reason they started the book in the first place. Yet too many back stories tell the reader that the character’s present must not be important to the novel.

A third consideration is the chosen age of the main characters. Most authors like to write about characters that are younger. They recognize that a 70-year-old hero attempting to be Don Juan may instead prompt the question: did he remember to take his Viagra? Yet younger generations have their own lingo, their own expectations, that an author must study, the way you would do research into any less familiar subject. You may still like rock ‘n’ roll, but Paul McCartney is ancient. Your memories of a character who talks that way will produce an oddly old-fashioned Peter Pan. 

All of these pointers lead in the same direction. To be a storyteller, you need to reach beyond yourself for stories. Sure, include some interesting tales from your past, but only as a minor complement to this brand-new story concocted from your imagination. Then you’ll really find yourself enthralled.

Exercise: Start any novel with the premise: the main character is not-me. That way you can free yourself immediately of personal clutter that readers will prefer you left private. How is not-me in trouble? How many personal details can I enumerate that aren’t like me at all? Now that character will be more interesting, not only to the reader—but to you.

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” —Benjamin Franklin

Copyright @ 2023, John Paine

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.