Taped to the top of my computer monitor are the words: “Storytelling and writing are actually two entirely different skill sets.” I think that quote is attributable to K.M. Weiland. It’s what makes writing a novel so difficult for me, and so seemingly easy for James Patterson. He comes up with so many plots so fast that he has to rely on co-writers to help write all the stories that pour out of his head. Patterson is a storyteller first and a writer second. I wish I had his facility for coming up with compelling “what if” situations and following them through to a finished novel that readers can’t put down. Alas, I’m a writer first and a storyteller second. Some lucky bums are equally good at both (Stephen King comes immediately to mind). So for me storytelling is the hard part.
Hemingway wrote, “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.” I respectfully disagree. Had he said “My prose is architecture…” I’d agree wholeheartedly. For me, on the other hand, storytelling is architecture, style is interior design, and prose interior decoration. The first two come before the latter. Story and style are the skeleton, the actual writing adds flesh. And if the writing is to be more than a paint-by-the-numbers knockoff, the process must allow for serendipity, unforeseen juxtapositions and tangents.
I’m currently working on a story set on the San Mateo coast, where I’ve lived for the past 42 years. I’m getting to know the characters, their backstories, their motivations, their voices. I’m not yet quite sure how they all fit together, where their lives intersect, and what tone I want to adopt. Other than notes there isn’t much actual writing being done, and I’m getting antsy to start. But I still need to find that moment when all of the characters find themselves in the same place at the same time, and possibly even in the same pursuit. It’s a puzzle. Being an ensemble piece, I’ll require the assistance of more than one muse working in concert. I hope they’re able to get along.