Posted in Writing

Make Sure, Always, That Your Story Comes First


In his 2000 craft book, Stephen King says,

There are lots of bells and whistles — onomatopoeia, incremental repetition, stream of consciousness, interior dialogue, changes of verbal tense, the stick question of backstory, and a dozen other topics […] it’s all on the table, every bit of it, and you should use anything that improves the quality of your writing and doesn’t get in the way of your story.

It’s All About the Story, Damn It

Stephen King is right. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to not just your writing but in making your writing stronger. There are so many little rules. So many little changes you can make.

But at the end of the day, your main concern should always be in telling the best story you can.

Especially in a first draft!

When you’re drafting a short story or novel, you should not be concerned with onomatopoeia. With interior dialogue. With incremental repetition and the like.

When you’re drafting a short story or novel, your total concern should be on the story you’re telling and the characters that are a part of your world.

Of course keep in mind what point-of-view you’re writing in. What tense. Think about how you want to pace the story, and how you want to introduce setting, and possibly theme.

But even so much of those matters can be handled better and more efficiently when you revise. When you do your third revision, your fifth revision.

When the first draft is long done.

If you’re stopping along the way of your first draft to think about more of the minor elements of writing, you’re in trouble.

Because you’re not focusing on the right things.

I’ve seen friends never finish any writing project because they were such perfectionists. They had to re-read every chapter over and over again before they could move on to the next. They looked at the sentences in extreme detail and in overly critical ways, even though the story wasn’t anywhere close to done yet.

And yes, they thought about such issues that King brought up above.

Onomatopoeia? Save it for revision.

Incremental repetition? It’s more for poetry, but can also be used in prose. Again, save for revision.

Stream of consciousness? Sure, this one can be used when you’re composing a first draft but keep in mind that most of it will probably need to be cut later when you revise. Stream of consciousness might be better served outside of your draft, and in a journal maybe, as you try to get your creativity flowing.

Interior dialogue? Changes of verbal tense? Backstory? All important, but all can be explored to their fullest, yes, when you revise.

Feel free to have these topics and others in the back of your mind as your draft your story.

But always, always, always make sure your story and characters are at the forefront of your mind.

Nobody’s going to care about any of these minor issues if he or she isn’t totally hooked by and invested in the story itself.

Nobody’s going to care if they don’t care about the project to begin with.

So focus on your story, focus on developing your characters, and then feel free to go crazy in revisions with some of these less important writing elements. Have fun with them. Explore them to their fullest.

But do so in revisions… and never before!

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