Ancient storytelling and modern day re-writing

Posted: December 11, 2014 in Writing Craft

Most people who make the decision to write creatively do so for the same reason, they feel a need to tell a story. Many clichés have been used to describe such an uncontrollable drive; the first couple that come to mind concern musicians. Who hasn’t heard about a performer that had “music pumping through their veins” or “rhythm in their blood”? I think that writers can often be looked at in the same way and like music the need for storytellers goes WAY back throughout the annals of human history.

Of course, writing tools and techniques came long after the creation of story. Early cultures did not have the ability to record important lessons and enriching stories, so these sacred tales were preserved in the oral tradition, often times spoken by a recognized wise man/woman or shaman around a camp fire. The problem with oral tradition is that like the children’s game of telephone, things change as they pass from one story teller to another.

In a way this same transference occurs when modern writers commit to telling their own stories. Sometimes a writer knows the exact direction they want to go with a story or at least have a few milestones or a finish line that they plan to cross. Other times writers sit down in front of their computer or scribble in their notebooks in hopes that the muse will guide them in the direction that their story needs to go. Both of these techniques are fantastic and without them the world would not be blessed with the enriching power that is story.

The journey a writer must endure to reach the glorious “fade out” or “the end” is always long and is always different. Every story I have written has offered its own challenges, some went quickly and there were some that I thought that I would never complete. Anyone who has read any literature on the craft of writing has certainly heard the phrase “writing is re-writing” and the phrase is very true in most cases. Whether a story is being translated from storyteller to storyteller as it was in ancient times, or simply being transferred from the magic place in a person’s brain (or heart) that story comes from to the page or computer screen, it is inevitable that things get lost in translation or changed altogether.

It is because of this anomaly that re-writing is so important. Re-writing is not simply going through a manuscript or word doc with a red pen or the highlight tool, it is a running analysis on the soul of a story. Sure grammar and spelling are important when re-writing, but one of the most important (and often hardest) things to do is to make sure that every single word either moves story or character forward. The analysis itself may always not be that difficult, but what happens when a beloved scene doesn’t make the cut? It’s got to go and that’s all there is to it. I personally like to keep these “misunderstood children” in a separate writing file and have on more than one occasion found that they fit into another story or constituted one of their very own. So don’t think of cutting scenes as “killing your babies” but more of “finding them the right home.”

Likening the editing process to the creation and retelling of ancient stories may seem like a stretch to some, but both require great insight and fortitude. The soul of a story is a special and unique thing and it is the responsibility of its creator to nurture and protect it. I hope you all have enjoyed this broad look into the heart of the editing process; I plan to get into more of the mechanics of the process in the near future and will have to practice what I preach in the very near future as the draft of my current novel is nearing its conclusion.

Until next time!

Comments
  1. James Gammill says:

    I can relate to finding scenes, and even characters, the right home. Sometimes they appear, as if on their own volition, in the wrong story.

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