The 5 Sins of Storytelling

The 5 Sins of Storytelling


Quite a few young, usually male, students were enamored of Hemingway. Their male characters were close-mouthed or terse when they had to speak; neither they nor the readers had much access to their emotions. They showed grace under pressure and took action when necessary. They were wounded by life but very brave. They wrote a lot of sentences using was and were, as in, the malls were very large but we didn’t go to them anymore. Soon these young writers became enamored of Raymond Carver and started writing stories with imitative titles like “What We Talk About When We Talk About Sex” or “Will You Please Roll Over Please.” The moral of the story is, write your own story.

Of course, emulation of great writers can be a good way to learn craft. You can analyze how their scenes are built and discover how they show rather than tell in their scenes. But in the end, writers have to find their own voices and their own styles and put them to use in their own work. Some writers have such distinct voices and such unique visions right from the get-go that this isn’t a problem for them. If this isn’t true of you, and if you, like the majority of writers, have to struggle to find your own style and voice, you’ll need to be on the lookout for instances in your work when you’ve taken on the style and mannerisms of writers you admire. Just as you wouldn’t want to plagiarize directly from someone else’s book, you don’t want to inadvertently “steal” their voice or their story. For one thing, readers will notice the imitation and won’t appreciate it. For another, you’ll be cheating yourself of one of the great satisfactions of writing, which is to discover what it is you want to say and your own way to say it. 

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