Uncle Orson's Writing Class
Your Inner Editor
August 2, 2000
I have often had ideas about stories, but I am always wary to begin the
process of writing that story down. I'm not sure why, but I suspect it has to do
with the fact that the story becomes real and therefore imperfect when the writing
begins. Before I begin, I have this idea that the story will be compelling,
entertaining, deeply moving, and yet clever and witty. But as soon as I begin
writing it, I see holes and flaws and unresolved problems. I need to suppress the
editor in me long enough to get the story out.
You can never suppress the editor in you, and you don't want to -- it's
the editor that helps you decide which events and details to include and which to
leave out. What matters is to get your internal editor looking for the right things.
Basically, that means that you must get your inner editor to stop looking at
the "prose style" of your writing, period. Language is nothing. You can write any
scene ten thousand ways -- and a thousand of them will be fine, and a hundred
will be brilliant. Of course, nine thousand won't be fine, and of those, about five
thousand will truly suck. But who cares? You can fiddle with language whenever
you want. It has nothing to do with the writing process.
What you need your inner editor to be concentrating on is what happens and
why. Have you chosen the right beginning point? Are you giving us the
point-of-view character's understanding of what these events mean? Is it clear to
the reader what's actually happening? Is the present event important, or merely a
filler while you give exposition? Those things you need to be watching carefully,
and those are the things that decide whether your story will feel important, true,
and clear to the reader from the start.
And, as an added bonus, when you're concentrating on story matters instead
of prose matters, usually your prose style stops being controlled and starts being
natural -- your real voice (or one of your voices) emerging effortlessly. Your
style will probably be much better when you aren't thinking about it than it ever is
when you are.
As to choosing when and where to begin a story, the rule of thumb is to
identify the inciting incident -- the event that causes the main character to become
involved in the main events of the story. However, this is so vague that it can be
almost useless. Therefore I've broken it down into four basic story structures (not
plots) and how to use each to choose the proper beginning point for the tale. I call
it my MICE quotient, and you'll find it in both of my books on writing, How to
Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Character and Viewpoint. Your library
should have them, or your bookstore can order them from Writer's Digest Books.