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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.

-- Anonymous

OSC Replies:

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.

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