How to Write a Book, Part 3


I want to make it clear that I’m not some kind of writing guru. The advice I’m giving is based only on my modest experience and my reflections.

With that in mind, if you’re not a story teller, you’ll never write a work of fiction.

Story telling is an art form. And some people can do it and others can’t. Here are some observations I’ve made from listening to the stories others have told — good, bad, and indifferent — and crafting them myself.

Parhaps the biggest problem nonstory-tellers have when trying to tell a story is not knowing the difference between what’s important and what’s not.

It’s the losing the forest for the trees problem. All stories, even those that are based on actual events, are selective accounts. That’s why story telling is an art — not a science.

Let’s say I’m tellng you about the time a dog stole my brand-new soccer ball. (It really happened!) Well, as I told the tale I could included all sorts of non-relevant detail. I could tell you about the time of year, that it happened across the street from my hometown newspaper, or that my hair was brown at the time.

But I would lose the point, and the momentum and timing of the story, if I did.

People who don’t have a feel for story-telling can really put their readers and listeners through torture with this sort of thing. I know I feel like shouting, “Who cares?!” or “Get on with it!” whenever I’m listening to someone who doesn’t know how to select and leave off things when telling a story.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about what I call the principle of selection.


Explore posts in the same categories: Mortimus on Writing and Books

3 Comments on “How to Write a Book, Part 3”

  1. xlinkx Says:

    But some of those parts that somewhat lose the point can be very vital to the story. Its sometimes good to pause and explain the setting. These are just my opinions and I could be wrong. I agree with everything else.

  2. Mortimus Says:


    Yes, some points are vital. Think about the beginning of The Purloined Boy, when the bogey comes for Trevor I describe Trevor’s Casper the Friendly Ghost Nightlight. Why do you suppose I did?

    Because it furthered an important goal — creating atmosphere and at the same time making a contrast to the wicked bogey who wasn’t friendly.

    But that’s the principle of selection. You must have a reason for everything you put into the story — every little thing. If there is no reason you can think of for something, drop it. It will only weaken the story. Even if you love it, it has to go.


  3. xlinkx Says:

    Ok I get it now

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