Maybe you have a story and want to get it published. Or maybe you have heard everyone has a story in them and want to start writing yours. Either way, you've probably heard some of the following myths about authorship:
- It's said J.R.R. Tolkien was not sure what was going to happen next as he wrote The Lord of the Rings.
- E.L. James supposedly wrote Fifty Shades of Grey as a fan-fiction of her favourite fantasy novel, Twilight.
- Legend has it Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in a drug-filled three week fit of passion.
- H.P. Lovecraft's short horror stories apparently came to him in nightmares.
These myths are a lot of fun and add to the mystique of the authors involved. However, they are also dangerous. They lead to the belief that all that is needed to publish a book or short story is some inspiration. One of the worst offenders is a famous poem by Charles Bukowski:
unless it comes unmasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut
don't do it...
The trouble is that truly good stories are about far more than just a good plotline. Successful writing includes character development, a build up of dramatic suspense, and celver description and exposition. Most important, fiction needs to explore big issues. The Lord of the Rings shows us why ordinary people can do extraordinary things. On the Road explores rebellion against tedious day-to-day existence. The best stories come when an author provides a resonant theme, and then explores that theme through a tense and memorable plot. Ann Leckie explains this well in an interview at the back of the sci-fi novel Ancillary Justice:
Often new writers are advised to make sure every scene is doing at least two things, but I've found that when I write short, two is too few. Every scene has to be doing as much work as it possibly can, and each sentence has to have a justification. If I can cut it, and the story remains comprehensible, then it pretty much has to go. Even if it's doing two or three things.
There are cases were natural storytellers have accidently hit on the recipe for a good story without even thinking about anything except the plot. If the legends are true, there are some examples at the top of this article. However, these cases are rare. In most cases, authors who are obsessed with their plot to the exclusion of the stories they are actually telling will not be successful.