I’m experimenting with occasional series of guest blogs here on My Own Personal Grey: Write Bites. These are little bites of observation, experience, advice, and anecdote about writing from selected published writers–including self-published writers because the experience of writing doesn’t begin and end at the publishing house door. So, because he asked, the first Write Bite comes from my friend, self-published writer and professional storyteller, M. Todd Gallowglas, author of the Halloween Jack tales among others.
Without further blither from me…
Storytelling in Writing:
When I started hitting people up, friends and professional contacts, for this blog tour I’m on, Kat was the first person that asked me to post about something specific. Kat and I go way back, to when we were working Renaissance Faires, when I was just a storyteller, and not a storyteller/author. She asked me to talk about storytelling in writing. So, here we go.
Two of the compliments I tend to get about my writing, and the ones I enjoy most, are: 1) when I read your books, I hear your voice in my head, and 2) I love the way you write dialogue. It’s like listening to two people actually talking. As a note: most of the people who give me the first have usually also seen my storytelling show. Still, I think it’s quite cool that my storytelling carries such a distinct “sound” that it translates well to both vocal and written mediums.
So, I’m sitting down, ruffling through all my notes and semi-completed scenes for Dead Weight, getting ready to attack it with the mind for putting it out into the world. The thought running through the back of my mind: How am I going to pull this mess off? Not only is this so far beyond anything I’ve written, it’s the first time I’ve started out intending to actually say something about the world and how I view it. Yeah, people tell me the other stuff I’ve written has some pretty interesting observations about the human condition, but those are pretty much in those stories by subconscious accident. The other point of freak out, is that this is the first urban fantasy thing I’m putting out, and between the giants of this genre, I’ve got my work cut out for me. How am I going to stand out?
At the end of my storytelling show, after I’ve finished my story and given my hat pitch (the part where I ask people to put money in my hat for the performance) I end with telling people that my show is different than a lot of the other shows on the stages at the faire. See, most of those shows will say something like, “Don’t try this at home,” because their acts have some element of danger. I’ll say something along the lines of, “Please do what I do at home. The world needs more stories. Take my stories and make them your own. Don’t tell them like me. Tell them like you. Tell them in your voice and your way.”
Aaaaand…I stare at the computer screen, pressure building on me, pressure pretty much out of my own fears and insecurities. I’ve got this story to write, a story with something to say. And night after night, I click back and forth between my scenes, and shuffle through my notes on Microsoft OneNote, and basically not getting anything done. Least of all, I’m not writing my story.
Then it hit me.
I’m trying too hard to write the story, when really, especially considering what’s going on in the story, I should be working on telling the story. BAM! The epiphany couldn’t have been any stronger, even if someone smacked me in the back of the head with a copy of Joyce’s The Dubliners. After that, my fingers started flying across the keyboard.
One thing I’ve worked hard to do with each of my various projects, from Tears of Rage sequence to the Halloween Jack adventures to The Dragon Bone novellas, is to give them each a distinctive “sound.” I take that from my storytelling show, because with each story, I work at adopting slightly (and sometimes not-so-slightly) mannerisms in the telling of each tale, making myself as the narrator as much a different character as those who inhabit the stories. Dead Weight gave me so much trouble when I sat down to actually write it because I didn’t know what it should “sound.” Once I knew what “sound” Dead Weight should have, I was off and running.
I won’t try and keep it a secret, or tell you to go buy the ebook to try and figure out the “sound.” Dead Weight is the sound of my internal dialogue when I’m observing the world. It’s got all of my skewed observations, geek references, snide commentary, and cynical optimism. (Yeah, cynical optimism. No, I won’t explain it. Just know it makes sense in my mind.) That’s Dead Weight’s “sound.”
I never would have managed to put this story together if I hadn’t had twenty-plus years of experience as a traditional, using-my-voice storyteller. The prose wouldn’t be close to what I’d want if my attention was on writing the story, rather than telling the story. Yeah, I know you’ve heard “Show, don’t tell,” but it’s not like that at all. As someone who has made a living at telling stories for a living for the better part of his adult life, I can say with the utmost certainty and sincerity, “telling a story in front of other people is the truest form of showing that story.” Now, I’m not talking about reciting a story, or reading one out loud from a book. I’m talking about truly telling it, with all the magic and wonder you put into your voice when you’re telling that child the bedtime story to end all bedtime stories, and you go deep into all the characters and stretch the tale out, because as you go on, that child’s eyes light up with wonder, and that child leans forward and hangs on your every word, because that child believes with every last bit of his or her imagination that the story you are telling right then and there is true!
That’s what telling a story is. That’s the place I go to when I’m working on Dead Weight. I’m both the teller and the child. It’s a thing of magic, which is what, at its heart, Dead Weight about, well at least for me. Other people will take it in other ways, and that’s the best part about stories. Even though we share the experience of the story, the story will affect each of us differently. And that’s why we need to keep sharing stories, because they celebrate our similarities and differences.