A writer lamented recently about a rejection she received. The agent loved her writing, but the book was still rejected. The reason? The writer couldn’t tell a compelling story.
I’ve been there. For more than three years I worked on a book with mystical elements set on a tropical island. My story had great themes and characters. Several agents told me they loved my writing. But the book was rejected again and again because I didn’t know how to tell a story. Oh, I had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I had outlines and character sketches and over three hundred pages. But in those beautifully written pages, nothing much happened to bring my story to a compelling resolution.
Bill Johnson, in his book A Story is a Promise: Good Things to Know Before You Write that Screenplay, Novel, or Play, says understanding “that a story is a promise is a cornerstone of the foundation for understanding the art of storytelling.” Further, a good story sets out its promise and moves an audience toward a desirable resolution.
Telling stories sounds simple, but it isn’t. As a writer I have to stay focused, to remember what I promise my readers—this is a story about a young woman who finds something to believe in—and then make sure I deliver. Side tales about enchanted forests and supernatural sharks may be entertaining, but do they really move the story toward its resolution? If they don’t, they’d better be deleted.
Knowing how to tell a good story is as important as being able to write beautiful words. If the story you love is getting rejected time and again, the rejection may have nothing to do with your skill as a writer. It just might be that you need to learn to become a better storyteller.