Clear Storytelling is Professional Writing
Whatever you’re writing — essay, love letter, television pilot, etc… — clarity is your roadmap.
I’m one of those people who has a challenging relationship with driving directions (and now that I think about it, with a lot of directions) and because I know this, I make sure that I’m really, totally, super clear on where I’m going and how I’m getting there.
Consequently, I approach my stories in the same way. I outline the crap out of my scripts/novels. I need to know exactly where I’m going so I don’t confuse myself or my readers and viewers. In fact, I spend hours, days, weeks, and months thinking about my stories before I ever start writing. And it’s horribly frustrating when I’ve written multiple drafts and something still isn’t working. When that happens, I go back to the outline phase.
I recently wrote a short film and probably wrote 25 drafts. Some of those were simple changes, but many were core structure changes that required new outlines. Here’s a version of a quick outline sketch I do on my wall so I can connect the dots before going deeper. I’m very visual. Seeing my outlines helps me see the journey.
Now, I know you’re thinking… being super clear means my plots could be exposed. Your readers might be like — “I saw that coming”, “Predictable”, or “Boring”. But it doesn’t have to be like this. It doesn’t.
Start with clarity and then build your story world around that. Add in all the Macguffins, misleads and trickster sh*t you want, as long as you move through that world honestly. And when I say honestly, I mean you don’t come up with deus ex machina to get yourself out of the dead end road you found yourself in because you didn’t do your clarity work.
Clarity is one of those pieces of the writing puzzle most people don’t think about because they think that we all know what’s in their head. We don’t.
Let me give you little insider writing trick I learned from a Disney producer; state your goal clearly — have your protagonist state her goal clearly. Disney does this so their viewers are never confused about where the story is going. I love it. We, as writers may think our sub-textual writing is obvious to the reader or viewer, and sometimes it may be, but if it isn’t… oh baby, you’ve just done a disservice to yourself and your story. Don’t get caught there. A confused reader/viewer is not a happy reader/viewer.
I hope I’ve made myself clear. 🙂
As Yogi Berra said (in some iteration)….
Careful, if you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.
Dawn Spinella is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. She runs Damn Spinella Productions and No Boundaries Film Institute. If she stopped, she would turn to dust.
“Write in the eye of the storm! See the debris whirling, driving, spiraling. Feel the roar of the wind, the sting of the hail. Smell the electric scorch of lightening. Taste the dirt.”
cover photo credit Daniele Levis Pelusi