Monday, January 28, 2013


Hi, Gang.

I'd like to thank Angie for giving me this chance to drool like the village idiot all over her blog. But, she assured me that I'd spend the rest of my misbegotten days sounding like Mickey Mouse in a room full of helium if I tried it. The sawed-off, pump action, 12 gauge shotgun aimed two feet below heart level definitely made her point. So, I'll do the next best thing, instead.

Blather on about writing.

Besides, I never argue with a lovely lady pointing a projectile weapon at the family jewels.

Now, we all know about the many, and often changing, rules of good writing. We ought to, there have been almost as many books published about writing fiction as there are actual stories. Have no fear, brothers and sisters, I'm not about to go off on an ignore-the-rules tangent… much. Without those rules you're in the same position as the folks on the Titanic who couldn't get on a lifeboat. You're going down with the ship.

Instead, I'll attempt to point out where those very same lifesaver rules might turn your blood, sweat, and tears into a pile of parts as lifeless as the Frankenstein Monster before the good doctor threw the switch.

In short, gang, the heart and soul of any good story is its entertainment value. Now before you go logging off the article, shouting, "Eureka," with the intent of turning your long suffering keyboard into a molten slag of melted plastic and circuits; I should warn you. You'll still have to deal with the foulest four letter word in existence. You will still have to put in the w-o-r-k.

The reason for this is; entertaining someone is probably the most ethereal subject in writing. It's not something that can be easily taught, or acquired. But, I may be able to point the way for a few of you. After that, kiddies, you is on your own and must find your own way through the woods.

From the very beginning the art of storytelling has had only one purpose: Entertain the audience listening to the story. Yes, there could be moral or practical instruction hidden within, but if our spear throwing ancestor couldn't keep the rest of the tribe entertained, the tribe soon stopped listening to him drone away. Heck, for all I know they started using him for target practice.

The same holds true for our own work today. You can follow every rule of writing and grammar, use every rule of English, weed out every adverb, and wind up with a story that's about as entertaining as a treatise on the mating habits of amoeba on the ocean floor. To the average reader this equals one thing… Boooooring.

May the writing gods have mercy on your word processor and career if you ever get that reaction to your story. Because, no one else will.

Fortunately, there are a few guidelines to save you from such a miserable fate. On the surface they sound as easy as blowing your nose. In reality they are enough to make you want to blow your brains out instead. And, honestly, the rules of grammar and writing must always take a back seat to them.

The first, hardest, and slipperiest of the bunch is: An engaging storyteller's voice.

A good story teller must have a style of telling a tale that borders on the hypnotic. Regardless of medium, a good storyteller must be able to draw the reader so far into the story that they completely forget about the outside world. They become entranced and mesmerized by the 'voice' of the storyteller, and become lost to everything but the story.

To understand this, just think of the number of times you vanished into a story, no matter what media presented it. Movie, television program, book, whatever, you were lost in the story. The phone rings, and you're actually pissed that someone jerked you out of the tale. That is the storyteller's true voice. And it ain't easy to come by, or hold on to. But I promise, you must have or develop it for yourself.

A good storyteller can make the most mundane piece of drivel sound like the Iliad.

Next we have our characters. The persons who will act out our earthshattering best seller. The problem there is; they better not be acting.

What I mean by this is, your characters need to be as close to a living, breathing being as you can possibly make them. How you do this will vary from writer to writer, but one thing all the greats admit to: for them their characters were alive. They were not just puppets having their strings pulled by the master, but entities that had a say in what they would, or would not do.

Readers, whether they are agents, editors, or the public will recognize a puppet when they see one, and at that point we are sunk. No life preserver, no Coast Guard rescue. Grab your nose and take a deep breath, chuckles. We're going down.

Last but not least, in the limited space we have for blogging, we have the plot.

This is not just the great story idea we came up with. Ideas pop up like dandelions on an ill kept lawn. Just about every person you know will have a great idea. The plot is how we get from the opening of the story to the mindblowing conclusion. And it darn well better be mind-blowing, or we're going to wind up right back in the middle of the Atlantic praying for a boat.

What the plot actually involves is every scene that comes between point A and The End. Each and every chapter must be engaging, move the story forward, and most of all be entertaining. Let that lapse and odds are our reader just fell asleep, or decided it would be more interesting to watch the cracks in the mud dry up.

To accomplish this, each and everything you have happen in your tale has to grow naturally out of the circumstances of the story, not… and I repeat, not out of the clever and contrived vaults of our little scheming minds.

For example: If your vegetarian detective main character suddenly solves the mystery because of the note one of the bad guys left in the all-beef hotdog he was eating to taunt him. The best you've done is made certain almost no one is going to read another book by you.

This is a rather extreme example of contrived plotting, but I can honestly say I've seen a few that were almost as bad. The best we do with this kind of lazy writing is make ourselves look like idiots. The worst we do is make the reader feel like we are trying to make an idiot out of them. And that is the last feeling you want the reader to experience. Ignore this advice at your own peril.

That's about all I can go into in such a limited space, but if you would like a more in-depth treatment of these subjects, as well as a few things I couldn't go into. Then let me suggest you Google Alice Orr's No More Rejections, and get your greedy little hands on it any way you can. In my honest opinion, it should be one of the first books an aspiring author reads. And you'll be glad you did.

Thanks again for having me Angie. And if you happen to get any death threats for having the ovaries to post my BS… For the god's sake, don't send 'em my way! I have enough from my own blog to hide from.

Later, Gang.

My thanks for coming on the blog, Pete. As always when in your company, visions of fire ants and peanut butter run through my mind, but I can't deny you know your writerly stuff. Plus, it's a little hard to aim a shotgun when I'm laughing hard enough to speckle bystanders with buckshot. You're welcome back any time.

For more more sage words of wisdom from Mr. Burton, please see his blog, A Storyteller's Musings. 


  1. Nice post.I try to read any post/blog pretaining to writing,and about being an aspiring author.

  2. Obviously, Peter has the storyteller voice part down. I can witness that he is a deep and complex character. And if anyone is more full of sh-- I mean plot, I order you to prove it!

    Great post, Peter. And Angie, I hope you survived it.

  3. Great post Peter! I'll have to check out the book you recommended.

  4. Thanks again for coming on the blog, Pete. I really appreciate it:-)

  5. He does have great voice!! This post comes at an opportune time for me. My writing experience is so boring this time of year. Bad weather, isolation and a rejection-stravaganza. Thanks to both Peter and Angie for putting some life back in this dreary January.

  6. Peter, Peter. Entertaining and practical. I've got to check out Alice Orr's book now. My writing bookshelf will be sagging soon, but it's worth it.

  7. Psst, Peter? I don't think the shotgun was loaded. If you look, the fore-end wasn't in the right position.... But the post turned out great anyway! Plenty of practical advice I need to remember.

  8. My heartfelt thanks to all of you.

    Sorry it took so long to respond, but I had a few critiques for my partners to get done, and a couple of stories that just won't leave me alone. Which, of course, is a side-step way of saying that I'm one scatterbrained individual.

    Now, if the technical aspects of my writing will only catch up with the storytelling...

    Thank you again, and TJ... I knew the shotgun wasn't loaded, but, why take chances? O_o

  9. Great post, Peter. I love reading your stuff.


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