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.
Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?
You may think you have nothing to say but, did you ever consider the sheer miracle of your birth, your existence, your identity? Contemplate for a moment — when a specific sperm penetrated a specific egg you were conceived and began to grow. If for some reason your parents had not had intimate relations at that fateful moment you would not exist.
Now take it back a generation — if one of your grandmothers had had a headache and said “not tonight dear”, either your father or your mother would not have been conceived and would not exist. If one or the other of your parents had not been conceived you would not exist either. This thread of conception goes all the way back to the beginning of time and if it had been broken at any point along the way you would not be. Talk about unique.
I have two dogs who are about as different as possible. One is a beautiful specimen, a Russian blue bull terrier, 50 pounds, with nicely defined muscles. She is a princess and knows that she is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. She poses a lot and allows her admirers to enjoy the view when she is around. My other dog is full sized, 45 pounds, with practically no legs at all, they are so short. She is a clown, a cross between a lab and corgi, with floppy ears and a tail. She looks like she should have a round red rubber nose and oversized shoes on her feet. If my dogs could write, their stories would be interesting each in its own way.
Whether you are a beautiful princess, a clown, or a mere human being you are the result of a million years of selective or chance breading, have a unique story to tell, and an obligation to tell it. It is one of a kind never to be duplicated.
Dixie Thomas Reale
Here is a good article from Writers Digest about why you may be getting rejections. So before you open a vein, read on…