The promise of a story … is it really there?

I bet you’ve all been there … up to your ears in another edit as you finish your final rewrite. Your manuscript printed out because you thought it finished. You’ve completed the synopsis, the envelope to a publisher is ready but doubt still dribbles around your mind.

Does the story live up to its promise? Is its theme articulated in the synopsis as well it should? Is this story the best it can be?

I’ve been working on a story that’s close to my heart. It’s about a working sheepdog and a girl who doesn’t give up on him even though he’s as useful as a dried-up swimming hole on a scorcher of a day.

At last, it’s finished! Ha, famous last words!

Before sending it out to publishers, three trusted friends (children’s authors) read it for me. Lucky, they did as their collective advice pointed to something I suspected, (but which was easier not to face) something was missing from this story – its reason for being, its promise. What had seemed clear in my head hadn’t translated on the page.

Back to the drawing board! i.e. sitting on the back deck with a cup of tea, despondent and grumpy.

Of course, Dr R, the much-appreciated ear, and wage-earner of the household comments. ‘Why the long face and the frown rivalling the Grand Canyon?’ (You get the picture).
I explain.
And in his usual logical, scientific manner, Dr R. asks, ‘If you don’t know what the story’s about, why write it in the first place?’

So I rave on about a working dog I once knew many years ago, on a cattle station – a cute-looking kelpie bitza, who failed the rule … a working dog is not a pet. And how distressed and angry I felt at the time about my uncle’s unfair (in my eyes), unjustified treatment of the animal. In those days, I didn’t care too much about the reasons behind an unwritten rule like that.

Dr R adds, ‘So you do know why you wrote the story.’
And there it was – the passion behind the story, the reason I felt compelled to write it – only I hadn’t connected the dots. From then on in, I knew how to improve the narrative and make the synopsis sing.

It made me think about the stories I’ve read that resonate so purely and with such clarity in my heart, I can return to them like old friends and new lovers (no, Dr R., it’s a figure of speech!)

Why? It’s the passion that radiates from their creators. Nothing to do with love or sex, just pure passion for their subject matter.

Some of my favourite ‘passionate authors’ include Marcus Zusak, Karen Brooks, Cassandra Golds and David Almond.

I have a special part in my ‘storytelling-heart’ for British author, David Almond‘s novels, and in particular, his first award-winning novel, Skellig. “I began to discover a way to expose the extraordinariness in ordinary things … After that, it was as if Skellig had been waiting.” David Almond

David Almond

Almond grew up in Felling, a town of steep streets and old mineworks set high on the banks of the River Tyne. One of six children, he was raised in a “big Catholic family in a big Catholic community, with a great big Catholic church at the bottom of the hill.” His stories are fired by and freighted with the stuff of his home: the 1960s Newcastle of Clay (2005);The Fire-Eaters‘ folk songs and coaly sea (2003); the pit cottages and pockmarked, heathery hills of Kit’s Wilderness (1999); Michael’s town in Skellig, which is a shadowy version of Almond’s own. (For the rest of the article, The Guardian newspaper)

David Almond’s passion for that part of England where he grew up – its people, the landscape, the language – have all fed his ability to create extraordinary stories. I recommend his work without hesitation – for children and adults.

Do you have a favourite author who weaves such magic for you too? Pray tell! 🙂

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6 thoughts on “The promise of a story … is it really there?

  1. Dale, maybe that book of Almond’s was the one called, ‘The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself’ – I found it very difficult to read because it’s all in phonetics. I’m pretty good at reading phonetics after teaching very young children, and adult literacy students – but it was still too much.

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  2. Good post about needing that passion to translate to readers. Great to have trusted readers who can pinpoint problems before an editor sees them.
    Have to agree with you Sheryl on David Almond, mostly. One book I read of his I found lacking. Can’t remember the name of it. But the rest have been great. Love Michael Gerard Baeur’s books too.
    http://www.daleharcombe.com

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  3. I have many from my childhood, but in contemporary writers, I have to say Michael Pryor is at the top of my list for his passion for the steampunk era, and his ability to transport us there.

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