About two years ago, I promised myself to start writing regular notes - a kind of diary. The initial goal was to keep some memories and thoughts, which otherwise are often lost without being pronounced. Do I still keep the promise? Well… I’m trying to, struggling with the regularity, starting on again and again after months of silence.
Initially, the notes weren’t intended for any reader, but you do not want to be stupid on paper - written text makes you reflect more and iterate to get something decent. And even after having a mediocre day, you have a chance to end it with an insight (sometimes, not that impressive when you reread it the next day, but still).
About a year ago, I gave myself another promise to stop telling stories before writing them down. The first reason is that the story, having been told, is not so fun to be written down. The other one is that writing efforts actually turn you into a better storyteller.
Definitely, I haven’t been keeping the second promise for long - it is an inhumanly harsh challenge. But with a growing library of notes, I have good stories to tell. Good enough at least…
Since I started to type, it seemed that reading something on the subject might be helpful. Lajos Egri in his The Art of Dramatic Writing describes what makes the story work. The book is a pure delight, but it is a bit too fundamental in application to the daily notes, so my outtakes are frivolous. Here are some notions that made the process more conscious for me.
Each note I’m taking down is supposed to convey some idea. I should mention, that usually I start without any just for the sake of keeping the ritual, but I dig it until I find something interesting.
For example, this article has more deleted paragraphs than those I’ve kept. I’ve been moving without a direction for a while until I finally chose the premise “Writing makes you a better storyteller”. After it, half of the written text appeared odd, but the other part became readable (I hope).
The idea can take any form - it should help to keep track of where you are going. Especially to the readers, in case there are any.
In my daily notes, I’m mostly the only character – not so many to choose from (my wife demonstratively disliked this sentence). And as a character, I evolve in response to the events. It can take different forms, the deliberate decision not to change still is an evolvement.
The important thing here is that character behaves accordingly to their personality and cannot just go directly to the right or the rational solution if it is against their nature. The decisions, impressions, conclusions should be grounded and understandable.
To say it shorter, I can use the advice Martin Freeman gives to his crying toddler in “Breeders”: “Be f*cking reasonable”.
I agree, the conflict of this note is not very impressive. But it’s always better if something happens as the story unfolds. Actually, I have it to some extent:
- the point of attack (during the eventful period, I felt an urge to keep the memories),
- then there was growth (regular writing) – veery detailed initially, but deleted for good,
- even a shorter mention of the climax (abandonment of writing),
- and the generous conclusion (97% of the text).
This essay-ish note is obviously not an ideal example, but the conflict is the foundation of the story. The escalating situation makes the character respond to it and keeps the reader engaged. Without any escalation, the story becomes flat.
Of course, you can write in any way that works for you. Those notions above just helped me to formulate more precisely the problems I see in my writings. The premise makes me get rid of the unnecessary parts and keep track of the story; the character reminds me to be reasonable and check if the others understand me; the conflict makes me think about the listener’s engagement.
Creating a good story may take some time. So there’s banal advice: If you want to become a better storyteller - write your stories down.