The Real Trick to Brilliant Writing
July 20, 2015
You know what makes for brilliant writing?
Not what you say, but the way you say it.
The execution. The way you jockey your message onto a page.
There are 354 different ways to tell any story. (Exact figure, give or take a few thousand or so.) You can start at the beginning, or you can start at the end. You can speak from your perspective, or you can speak from theirs. You can write long, detailed sausage-stuffed paragraphs, or thin, wispy little ballet dancer ones.
You can organize events in the order they happened, or organize them in the order you felt them—which may or may not be the same. You can break it up by theme, by lesson, by thought, by emotion. You can present a sliver of truth, or smack us across the face with the greatest one you know.
You can say it loudly or quietly. Abruptly or slowly. You can shock us with one word choice, or pleasure us with another.
The shape of the story we tell is as important as the story itself.
It’s why we’re obsessed with apps like Twitter, where 140 characters is the shape, and why we love the mini stories told via Vine. It’s why the 6 word memoir became such a hit, why everybody loves Medium, and why this visual storytelling piece made me want to jump up and down like a high school cheerleader in a skirt whose delicious football player boyfriend just scored a big, fat touchdown. (My high school was too small to have a football team. BEAR WITH THE FANTASY, OKAY?)
Stories need limitations. You need to pick which 1970's bathroom-colored Tupperware container you want your story to fit into, and then work within those constraints.
Constrain your idea.
Constrain it creatively, constrain it unexpectedly, constrain it loosely, but constrain it.
There’s a reason Elizabeth Gilbert chose to divide Eat, Pray, Love into 108 tales, representing the number of prayer beads of a japa mala. It's why companies like 99 Designs are memorable. It’s why All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was a hit. It’s why books like Thug Kitchen make people go wild. It’s why people love this blog post. (Hint: It’s not because of the story I tell. It’s because of the way it’s told.)
Your story is a product. And the packaging matters.
In a world where everybody’s blabbing about content, content, content…the one thing they forget?
It’s not about how much content you write, but how well you shape the content you do write…into meaning.