Monday, September 12, 2011

Story Trumps Innovation

Lately, I have been talking to some writers about innovation. These are talented writers I've had the privilege to work with and for. They are constantly trying to up their game, develop their craft, and think about ways in which they can do something totally unique, totally different.

As a writer, I enjoy seeing that enthusiasm. It excites me and actually gets me motivated to do my own writing. As an editor and writing consultant, however, I always preface this discussion on innovation with the need to remember the story. Then after that big, broad statement, I offer three questions to consider:
  1. Are you really being innovative? A lot of the "innovation" writers work to develop in their stories has already been done. Usually, when a writer proposes some avant-garde structuring or development for their story, I point them toward authors that have done something similar...if not the exact same. Although others might see it differently, for me, writers looking to be "different" need to realize that it's not so much about being different as it is about writing the story that only YOU could write--that's the true innovative part.
  2. Is the story about your "brilliance" or the actual story? When I read your story, I should not see the innovation first and the story second. There have been times when I have read a story and could actually feel the author tapping my shoulder, shouting, "Did you see that? Look at me, I'm being poetic, deep, and complex here!" I often see something similar to this when writers have a major lesson for readers to learn from having read a story and they hit the reader over the head with overly dramatic scenes that SCREAM the lesson to the reader. In the end, for both cases, I remember more about the heavy-handedness of the author than I do about the characters and the actual story. Writers should work to check their egos at the beginning of an empty page and let the characters and story develop as they need to.
  3. What does your story need to be its best? This is the central question all writers should consider when writing their story. Readers care about well-developed characters that struggle and battle to obtain whatever it is they are trying to get in the story. They want to be entertained, they want to escape, they want to laugh, cry, think, feel. Now, this doesn't mean you can't be innovative or try new things, but it does mean those things have to be relevant to the story. It means you have to remember the story. Innovation is great. A great story is even better. When we look at the canvas of our story, we should be looking to discern how best to honor that story first. When a story is good, readers will see the effort put into its development without the need to be heavy with innovation.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, tinkering with the idea of self-publishing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Excellent reminders -- my blog today discusses some mistakes I noticed while judging contests. Too much 'showing what you know' or the reverse..too much showing what you should have researched. It's about the story in the end, and you shouldn't distract the reader with unnecessary details. Ultimately, the author shouldn't be on the page at all. Let the characters tell the story.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. I agree. The story is king. Everything else must be second best and really shouldn't be noticed.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Reminds me of some films that have tried to be avant-garde ... ultimately unwatchable because the 'gimmicks' keep taking you out of the experience. The director of the best films is not detectable ... as should be the author of a good story. Hey, that's not funny.

  4. Great reminder, Shon. There have been times I read a new author and was blown away by the use of language, but finished the book with a sense of disappointment. It took a while, but I finally figured out it was because the author was working so hard on choosing the right words, he or she forgot to work that hard on the story.

  5. These are very helpful reminders that should probably be stamped on every computer for every writer. I particularly liked point #2. When a writer gest carried away in their own soapbox moment, it jolts the reader out of the story and makes it hard to deal with so much author intrusion.

  6. Excellent points, Shon! Recently I've read a few well-reviewed books (not naming names) that I thought were very interesting in concept but too light on story. While I respected what the authors were trying to do, I felt a little let down when I finished them, instead of satisfied.

  7. And the thing is many of the writers I talk to about this have great intentions for wanting to be innovative. There are messages that they really want to convey in their works, and like I tell them, that's all fine and good, but readers do not want to be beaten about the head and shoulders with a message. If the story is good (in all ways it should be good), the reader will GET the message. They will see all the beauty that story has.

  8. Thank you for the comments, everyone! :-D


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook