I don’t remember there ever being a point in my life where someone sat me down and told me, “This is how you write a story.” Sure, I learned about basic plot structure in my middle school literature class, but that wasn’t really meant to teach us how to be better writers. Besides, by that time I had already written stories of my own. They weren’t any good, but they were still something.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you take writing seriously, you probably should study the craft of it. That doesn’t mean you need to go earn your MFA in Creative Writing, but it’s worth your time to pick up a book on writing or read a few articles here and there. I know it’s hard to take advice from others (especially – gasp – when their writing methods differ from yours), but you’ll be thankful for it.
But aside from reading about writing (and reading good writing – all writers should be readers, after all), there are other, less obvious “writing teachers” out there. I’m sure you could come up with some if you thought about it. Today, I wanted to share some of the more surprising ways I’ve learned about writing and storytelling.
Say Goodnight Kevin Movie Reviews
Say Goodnight Kevin (SGK) is a YouTube channel where the host, Kevin, reviews movies. His niche is specifically Christian or “faith-based” films, which, if you’ve ever seen one, tend to be mediocre at best. Kevin doesn’t stop at just roasting the movies though; he takes time to explain what works or, more often, what doesn’t work.
While movies aren’t really my storytelling medium, I do think I’ve learned a lot about writing from watching SGK reviews. They’ve given me a better understanding of what not to do when it comes to character development, conflict, and especially themes. And this is all done in an entertaining way, so it’s stuck with me.
I was a few generations too late to the Tooth & Nail Records hype, but I still enjoy listening to their podcast. Labeled recounts the history of both the record label and the individual bands that played a role in that story. Since its reboot, the podcast has gone through T&N’s history more or less chronologically, making it more of a story than the average podcast.
Labeled tells its story primarily through interviews, which are almost always with the people who were directly involved in a given event. For me, the key takeaway here is remembering that there is always more than one side to any story. Sometimes, the interviewees have different spins on something, or they may even outright contradict each other.
There’s a second part to that too: Just because there is more than one perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that one is “right” or “wrong.” There are times when it’s important to take each point of view into account to understand a situation.
This still applies for fiction writers, though in a slightly different way. If you have multiple main characters, each of them will view the world differently. You should consider: will Character A view this situation differently than Character B? Will that cause conflict? How will they each react to the conflict?
Ah, social media. Our favorite blessing/curse. A blurse, if you will. We could debate the pros and cons of social media for hours, but if there’s one thing that it has taught me about writing, it’s the importance of brevity. If you want people to read your Instagram caption or Facebook post, it’s best to keep things short and sweet.
In writing stories, sometimes less is more. When I write a first draft, I don’t hold back. When I edit, on the other hand, it’s usually about cutting out extra words. Maybe I don’t really need to explain the intense politics of this fantasy nation, or perhaps I can just summarize this meaningless conversation between two characters. You want to keep your audience engaged, and if you have a lot of extra fluff, they might lose interest.