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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What It Takes

The other day it occurred to me that there are two skill sets involved with being a fiction writer: Writing and storytelling. This isn't exactly an epiphany because it's kind of an obvious thing, but it was the first time I actually put it out there in my thoughts in such a straightforward way.

Two things kind of nudged this up into my consciousness. First was the reminder of the 10,000 hour rule. A couple of years ago, I'd read an article on how it takes 10,000 hours to become really good at anything. I blogged about it at the time and talked about how I always wanted to be able to draw, but wasn't willing to put in the number of hours it would take to get good at it. My interest wasn't great enough for drawing, but that it was different with writing.

The second thing that triggered this involved backstory and how new writers think they need to info dump the history of their characters at the start of their book. I can't even tell you how many contests I've judged for unpublished writers where nothing happens in the entry at all because they're so busy giving me the life and times of hero and heroine. The writing itself--how they put sentences together--is usually fine, but the storytelling isn't.

Of the two, I think the writing part is easier to learn than storytelling. I'm assuming this based on the fact that the entries in the writing contests are generally well-written, but storytelling still needs work. Also on what I hear as coworkers tell stories. And by telling stories, I mean someone asks, "How was your weekend?" and listening to the response.

What usually follows is a recitation in chronological order of every little thing that they experienced over the weekend. That's not how you tell a story. In storytelling, the boring stuff should be left out and so should anything the reader doesn't strictly need to know. Backstory violates both those things.

So applying the 10,000 hour rule, I'm thinking this means that writers need 20,000 hours since there are two different skills involved. Or maybe there's some overlap and writers need 15,000 hours?