A Little Goes a Long Way
About a year ago a friend asked for my feedback on a new story she wrote. Writers do this with each other, and the luckiest of us have beta-readers who are not writers also.
I think highly of this friend’s storytelling abilities. An afternoon with her is a magical ride on a roller-coaster of laughter punctuated by vistas that leave me feeling I have just seen something deeply beautiful, that thing called wisdom.
I was eager to read her written story. She warned me ahead of time that she was “not a writer” and that she “ran out of steam writing it down” and thus it might be “too short.” With this introduction I was even more eager to do all I can to boost her writing confidence.
But right off the bat this tale-telling was a mess. The first page of a six-page story contained the introduction of not one-two-three-four-five characters, mentioned by name. There were nine (I counted) energetic beings fluttering about saying this and that to each other. Or maybe they were talking to themselves? Who could hear anything with all that noise?
It occurred to me that one of the things we do when we write is to discipline and structure. A great storyteller does this also, but in a more casual way. If you tell a story orally and mention a whole host of cousins and their best friends, then never get back to them, it is atmospheric and gives a sense of a large gathering. If you write of a myriad of cousins and their friends, whether you get back to them or not, it is an overcrowded mess.
I made the same mistake with my written stories in my earlier writing, though nine characters on the first page was not a record I achieved.
Too many ingredients don’t make a better dish.
I read her story to the end. There was a story there. That was the good news. Good storytellers know what a story is and what it isn’t. But it needed some real work, beginning with a clean up of the overcrowded entryway.
I felt like the parent who came home to her teen’s rumpus party, and had to yell, “Party’s over!” and disperse the crowd.
Luckily my friend is as wise as she is earnest in trying to figure out the best way to discipline the tale. She not only did a face-palm and exclaimed that my observation was spot-on. The second draft looked nothing like the first. My friend is on her way to surpass anything I've ever done in writing.
This post is a happy-ending story