Monday, March 7, 2011

Tell Me a Story

Anyone who has had children or grandchildren or been a child, is familiar with this refrain. After hunger, thirst and sex, it has been the next desire that people need to satisfy — since the beginning of time, from the cradle to the grave. It is why children demand to be read to, and why adults read.

Recently I attended a panel at an MWA meeting entitled, “Why We Stop Reading.” Author/teacher, Hallie Ephron, was the host, joined by an editor and an agent. Each panelist was asked to list the stop lights that caused them to quit reading a manuscript submission. Confusing plot, stereotyped characters, clich├ęs, misleading dialogue, bad spelling and grammar, were among those mentioned. But the single, biggest stop light — by far, was: Lack of a good story.

The fact that, as readers, the panelists didn’t care what happened next. This is the most common reason why manuscripts are rejected.

As writers, it is easy to get lost in our own quirky whims and desires — to be cute, different, and obscure (also known as pretentious), and forget the one, basic, elemental reason for writing: to tell a good story.

We should repeat this maxim every night before we go to bed, and every morning before we get up, and whenever we sit down to write.

It can never be repeated too often.

Now, repeat after me. TELL A GOOD STORY!

Robin Hathaway


  1. Yes, yes, yes! I've been saying this for years. Forget all the soap opera ongoing emotional angst of the characters and just tell a good story in each book! Thanks for saying it again.

  2. Robin, This post is a bull's-eye. How important are stories? On my favorite radio program--Radio Lab--on public radio, they asked a question Kate raised in an earlier post: How do we know who we are?--the essential question of a human being's identity. After asking neurologists, psychologists, antropologists, members of just about any specialty that might have an informed opinion, they concluded that people see themselves as the main character in the stories they tell of their origins and experiences. Not superficially or metaphorically, but in the deepest, most essential way, we love stories because they are at the core of our personal sense of who we are as human beings.